Saturday, September 25, 2021

New clip from "Don't Look Up"

Netflix has released a new clip from Don't Look Up, with new footage of Meryl:

I'm not sure if that music is in the actual film, or if it was simply added as part of this scene for marketing purposes. In general, the clip does a decent job of showcasing the premise of the film; there's an asteroid heading towards Earth, and the scientists can't get the politicians to take it seriously.

Meryl's lines were pretty uneventful, but we get a glimpse of the sort of Trumpish disregard for facts that I'm guessing she'll channel throughout much of the film. Leo made me anxious, which he was supposed to do. Jennifer Lawrence had a fun back-and-forth with Jonah Hill (whom I wanted to punch, so kudos to him and his characterization). 

Looking forward to a full trailer soon. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Where is "Places, Please"?

It has now been seven months since we first learned that Meryl was going to star in the feature film, Places, Please. Set to be directed by Michael Christopher, early reports claimed that filming was to begin this "summer." I posted about two months ago how it was strange that we still hadn't heard any further casting news for this project. I tried to be rational in remembering that there was plenty of summer left, and that lots of things get done in Hollywood without us ever realizing they're taking place. 

Well, it's officially fall now, and there has still been zip announced on this production. And there's nothing else out there in terms of other projects that we can even anticipate from a rumors standpoint at this point either.  Yes, yes, it's possible we'll get an announcement any time now that filming is set to get underway. Or that the daughter of Meryl's character has been cast (ooo! I should do a poll to see who people think it should be!), and it's even possible that production could get pushed to spring, and still release it by next fall. I expect that a lot of the scenes will be interiors anyway, so it probably doesn't matter much what time of year they shoot in New York. 

Regardless, I hope this gets going soon. Hell, maybe soon we'll even get some news on a brand new project Streep hopes to shoot next year!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

My debut novel, "The Cypress Club"

Four years ago, I decided "for fun" to begin writing a work of fiction. I'd toyed with the idea for a while, having maintained this blog for close to six years by that point. There's no question I'd been influenced by my staunch attention to Meryl's film career, and to the characters she so poignantly portrayed. It was with this fascination that I set out on what I first expected to be a short story. Fast forward to today, and I'm thrilled to share that I've published my first novel, The Cypress Club. 

I'm sharing it on my blog because (aside from it being a great venue to shamelessly plug the book), like so many other stories on which I've speculated over the years, The Cypress Club includes a main character whom I'd love to see portrayed onscreen. Having dissected so many of Meryl and her contemporaries' performances over the past decade, I feel like I was armed with an understanding of how to portray a believable character from a certain generation. Betsy was fun to write about, as was the setting that surrounds her and the rest of her family. A brief synopsis:

Ben Apt has given up on the relationship his mother, Betsy, has never allowed them to have. School, career, his choice in boyfriends--she's always found an excuse to pull away. Pushed to reconcile by a deathbed request from his beloved grandmother, Ben accepts an invitation to visit his parents for their fortieth anniversary party. Destination: their new retirement home in the tony Cypress Club community of Palm Beach. 

Ben's efforts to reconnect are quickly tested when Betsy greets him. She's gone platinum. Her face looks. . . new. And instead of hashing things out with her son, she spends the weekend going to deceptive lengths to impress the other nouveau-riche Boomers in residence--whose greatest concern is where to enjoy a mimosa-soaked brunch after their first eighteen holes. 

As Ben struggles to navigate the minefield of the club's peculiar culture, greater secrets are revealed, until he's no longer sure whether reconciling with his mother will provide the peace he'd been seeking, or only serve to destroy the Apt family completely. 

The Cypress Club is by turns funny, irreverent, and heartbreaking. An often-satirical tale that explores the painful prospect of severing ties with a parent and invites readers to rethink what it means to live the American dream.

I'm not ashamed to admit that an early driving motivation to continue the drudgery required to actually complete, edit, and revise a novel was helped by the fantasy of it getting optioned for a film. If you can't dream it, no way it'll happen, right? That idea sort of waned as I got further into the process, and I was able to simply enjoy the craft, and the fun of daydreaming. Through all the work, I've gained a better understanding of how to go about writing quality future stories (which I've already begun). It's been a rewarding process beyond my expectations. I hope folks feel inclined to take a look. 

The novel is currently available pretty much anywhere books are sold online, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and many more. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Netflix releases teaser for "Don't Look Up"

 Netflix released its first official teaser for Adam McKay's upcoming film, Don't Look Up.

I told a friend I thought it was a bit underwhelming. I was hoping for a tad more of Meryl, and even the clip she was in was pretty basic, as if her character is mostly just going to be in the background. I don't believe that's the case. The editors likely just need to make this seem to people like something they'll want to see more of. Simply having all the cast members given a small chunk of screen time should be a good draw. 

Jonah Hill is sort of playing himself it seems, although that's not necessarily a bad thing. Looks funny. Cate Blanchett has perfectly channeled the creepy blonde conservative cable news anchor. Leo made me a little anxious too with the panting. Not a type of character we see from him often, so might end up being a nice vehicle for him. I don't see this being something Jennifer Lawrence gets a lot of critical praise for. Her role is just fine, not super interesting. Anxious to watch Mark Rylance. He's almost unrecognizable with the coiffed white hair and blazing teeth! Some additional stills released as well:

Looking forward to seeing more!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Results of poll #10

The results are in from last week's poll which asked "which Streep film or performance left you particularly disappointed." Below are the results:  

Not super surprising that The Prom came in #1. I think many of use were excited to see Meryl team up with Ryan Murphy. Her singing and acting were wonderful, and I still really like the soundtrack, but it just didn't pack the kind of punch we were hoping for. 

This might surprise a few readers, but I'm one of those who chose August: Osage County. For no other film role did I get as excited for a Streep performance than I was when I learned she and Julia Roberts were going to star in it. I had seen the play and adored it. And when confirmation of the film's production was delayed by over a year, I remember pining for it's possibility, much like I eventually did for The Good HouseMaster Class and The Nix. But August actually got made (with Meryl)! It was one of the most buzzed films and performances that I can remember leading up to the film festival and awards seasons. Yes, Streep had just won her third Oscar for The Iron Lady the year prior, but even with that "overdue" status, many thought Meryl's performance in August may end up being of the "undeniable" caliber, based on the written character and pedigree of Tracy Letts's play. 

Alas, while Streep did achieve an Oscar nomination (it's a remarkable performance in its own right), she  probably just sneaked in the top five that year. Moreover, reactions to the film were rather tepid compared to expectations. I agree with CJames in the comments section on last week's post, in that this film had so much potential to be outstanding, but was instead watered down and cut down to a subpar shell of its staged glory. Meryl's role included. In the hands of a different director perhaps, or from a different studio that didn't insist in shaving down the running time, we would've gotten a more thorough and therefore more compelling examination of the mighty Weston family. It's hard to overestimate the importance a film's success (mostly critically) is for its actors' chances at recognition. Had August been a film that captured the irresistible family dynamics and emotional tone of, say, Ordinary People, we might have gotten a true American classic, as well as a performance for the ages. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Poll #10: Which Streep film or performance left you particularly disappointed?

Now that I've rekindled the polls, I'm adding one that at first glance might seem a bit uncharacteristic for the tone of this blog. A commenter had suggested doing a poll of where "Meryl underperformed by public opinion." I think this isn't a bad idea to explore. As much as I'm consistently astounded by Streep's performances, there are definitely films that I've gotten supper jazzed about seeing, only to have my expectations not met. Whether it be the role itself, the quality of the film, critical or box office success, or (very rarely) how Meryl approached a certain aspect of the character, there have been times I wish I'd seen a different outcome. 

The below list is obviously not exhaustive. I just chose a number of films that weren't exactly unanimous gems. I'm sure some folks may choose something not on the list, or even one of her most lauded performances, for reasons that are special to them. I just like to hear the discussion. As in the last poll, I'll leave my answer for the results post next week. 

Fire away!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

"Don't Look Up" officially releases to Netflix on December 24

I guess we have confirmation, now that Netflix has tweeted its plan to release Adam McKay's film Don't Look Up on Christmas Eve:

The film will open its brief theatrical run on December 10, qualifying it for Oscar consideration. I'll likely try to see it in the theater if it's anywhere near Minneapolis.  If not, maybe I'll have some viewing plans to add to my busy holiday weekend. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Results of poll #9

Last week, I reinstated the poll tag on the blog! Folks made their choice in response to the question, "Besides 'Sophie's Choice,' what was Meryl's best screen performance?"

Below are the top five results:

1. Doubt

2. The Bridges of Madison County

3. The Devil Wears Prada

4. A Cry in the Dark

5. (tie) Adaptation, Silkwood

I have to admit, I'm a little surprised that Doubt came out on top. I'm certainly not complaining. I absolutely LOVE that movie and performance. I think a lot of people find Meryl's portrayal of Sister Aloysius a bit over the top. It might be a tad, but I think it's splendid. Bridges is an excellent choice too. I happened to select A Cry in the Dark. Her performance as a ordinary woman from Australia thrown into extraordinary circumstances was both mesmerizing and heartbreaking. And she did a wonderful job with a very difficult accent (I always love that). 

I'd be curious to know why other people chose what they did. And specifically which role those who selected "other" would've chosen?  Big Little Lies? I'm also surprised more people didn't choose Angels in America. The scenes as Ethel Rosenberg are probably top five for me in Meryl's career.

Any suggestions for the next poll?

Friday, August 13, 2021

"Don't Look Up" set to drop on Netflix on December 22

Film Updates tweeted on Wednesday that Don't Look Up is apparently going to be released to Netflix on Wednesday, December 22. 

I don't know for sure exactly how reliable this site is, but the folks on Awards Watch seem to think it might be legit. It seems like a perfectly reasonable date. I though a Wednesday may seem strange, but if they released it on the 24th instead two days later, its number would probably be lower because a lot of folks are likely going to be busy doing other things on Christmas Eve. We'll see if we get confirmation from Netflix. Knowing they're going to have a short-run theatrical release as well, it'll be interesting to see when that date is going to be, and in exactly how many cities it will actually play. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Ten years of Word on the Streep!

Wow. It's hard to believe it's really been this long. I can remember the summer of 2011 after the first teaser for The Iron Lady came out. So many people were abuzz with how uncanny Meryl's portrayal seemed in just a few short seconds of dialogue. 

Something about it got me more excited than I had in previous awards seasons leading up to a film's release. It probably helped that I'd been dating Joe for a year and a half by that point, and he was savvy enough with the computer to suggest putting my thoughts about all things Meryl onto a blog. Welp...ten years and over a thousand posts later, I've enjoyed perhaps the biggest deep dive into Meryl's screen career anyone has ever undertaken (at least for those of us who choose to write down their thoughts about it publicly). 

Just a quick rundown of some bigger projects Meryl has done since I started:

The Iron Lady
Hope Springs
August: Osage County
Into the Woods
Ricki and the Flash
Florence Foster Jenkins
The Post
Big Little Lies
Little Women
The Prom 
Let Them All Talk

Imagine if she could have another decade even close to the success these films have achieved for her. I suspect many out there may think her best days are far behind her. After all, she just turned 72! Who in God's name is going to have an illustrious string of performances (or even parts!) into their 80s? 

Meryl Streep. That's who. And beyond. Here's to the next ten years of her work. I hope to keep following it every step of the way. My continued gratitude to any and all readers and participants of this blog. It's been a wonderful ride, and I thank you. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

A new poll!

I've missed being able to do polls on this site. The interaction and opinions from readers are always a fun aspect. A couple of years ago, Blogger for some lame reason discontinued that widget. I tried one from a different site but didn't like it much, so I kind of just left it alone. It's been on my mind to revisit it, and I think the one I found actually seems pretty good, so I decided to give it a try. Hopefully it works out! I'll wait to divulge my choice until I close the poll in a week. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

First teaser from "Don't Look Up"

Last night during the Olympics, NBC aired a teaser for Adam McKay's upcoming Netflix film, Don't Look Up. The quality isn't great, as it wasn't officially released to YouTube, for example, and just pulled from someone's TV screen:

I've read that a lot of people are in a tizzy about Meryl's wig in this. I have to wonder if the choice is a bit tongue-in-cheek, as sort of an oblique parody of our recent former president and his bad hair life. 

Meryl's time during the teaser is extremely brief (a couple seconds). They definitely played up the humor. Jonah Hill looked effective as the sort of bro-ish clown. Leo DiCaprio certainly seems to be playing a little against type--it's not often we see him as the nerdy professor in a less than serious role. Jennifer Lawrence seemed fine. With only a thirty second spot, it's hard to glean a ton of info (the film is 145 minutes long), but it's just fun to get an early look. Hoping this means we'll see a full trailer sooner than later.  

Friday, July 30, 2021

"Don't Look Up" to have theatrical release window

There was an article in Variety a couple days ago about how Netflix's film chief, Scott Stuber, has recently forged a multiyear deal with Steven Spielberg's production company, Amblin Entertainment. It's been a turning tide in recent years, with 2020's quarantine pushing the film market's viewers even more into homes and out of the theaters. I'm not going to offer an opinion on whether or not that's a good thing (other than to say I don't really care about superhero movies anymore so I'm fine watching movies at home).

In the article, they name Don't Look Up as one of the films that'll have a short theatrical release later this year. If that release happens to be in a theater near me, and is released significantly earlier than it is on Netflix, I'll definitely be going. It may not seem like a big deal that there'll be a theatrical release, but after the rules changed for this year's Oscar eligibility requirements, one has to wonder if we have some new rules coming. The only requirement being a theatrical release seems dumb these days. What would be a more appropriate way to categorize movies that filmmakers want to be recognized by the Academy? I'm not sure what the answer is to that. I guess it doesn't really matter, as long as I get to see them and replay them as much as I want eventually. 

No word on official dates for Don't Look Up's release. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Streep trending top three for Best Supporting Actress

Adam McKay's upcoming film Don't Look Up has apparently already had a test screening, with very positive reviews. Meryl of course plays the President of the United States in the movie, and is said to be a standout for possible awards recognition. That's all fine and well, but whenever I like to get the pulse of the race, I find that the monthly polls over at Awards Watch tend to be the most accurate assessment of who's got the best chances. 

Streep is currently polling in third place, behind Cate Blanchett for Guillermo del Toro's Nightmare Alley and Ruth Negga in Passing. Fun fact, it's now rumored that Blanchett may be pushed in the lead category by Searchlight. If that's the case, it removes a very big hurdle to Streep's chances in this category. Blanchett of course is in the running for the Don't Look Up as well, but by most accounts, Streep has the meatier role with greater screen time. 

Interesting that the run time for Don't Look Up is listed as 2 hours and 25 minutes. That's seems pretty long for a comedy/satire. But having read the script, it's not the kind of story that can unfold particularly quickly, so I'm glad they're not cutting it down much. Hoping for some production stills soon. Netflix still has no release date listed, but November or December are likely. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Thoughts on "Places, Please"

We're already halfway through summer and nary a word has been printed about the status of Places, Please since its announcement five months ago. At the time, filming was listed as starting sometime in the summer. I thought I had read somewhere that it was supposed to be early summer, but I rechecked a few articles and cannot find where that may have been. So, I guess I shouldn't get too impatient about the possibility that it might not start until closer to September. 

That said, it's a bit strange that there's been no further casting news. With this idea, however, I should probably pause and remind myself that so much of the inner workings and dealing of film casting goes by under the radar. Look at the recent casting news of Babylon. We were all waiting with baited breath to learn whether or not Meryl would be announced in the role of Elinor Glyn, only to learn about Jean Smart's casting while filming was already underway. For all we know, Places, Please may already have its full cast assembled, and are only days away from shooting. 

One thing that I hadn't picked up on quite as closely when reading the brief character synopsis from Deadline was where they describe the character contending with "the demands of ageing, its real and perceptual debilities," and "...the betrayals of others and her own body." This makes me wonder if Lillian Hall will have some kind of illness or physical functional impairment (beyond the typical wear and tear of that goes along with ageing). If so, it's one added element to complicate the life of this woman. 

I also have to say that the idea of this film being a sort of love letter to Broadway is already resonating with me. I'm a huge fan of live theater, and having had the opportunity to see my first live opera in sixteen months last weekend, I was strongly reminded of how much I missed in-person performances. I'm taking a trip to New York this fall as well, and was surprised how scarce many online tickets were for Broadway shows. I'm just grateful that things have opened to some degree, and I pray (figuratively) that we can continue in that fashion. People are hungry for that kind of experience again. Myself included.  

Monday, July 12, 2021

No "Babylon" for Streep

Well, after more than a year of speculation that Meryl might be cast in a supporting role in Damien Chazelle's upcoming drama, Babylon, it was revealed today that Jean Smart has taken the role: 

They do not name the character, but describe her as a "journalist-critic who can make or break careers."  That's basically the role of Elinor Glyn. I have a feeling they changed the name, and that she may no longer be British. From what I understand, they changed several of the characters to only be similar to real life characters like Clara Bow and Anna May Wong, not the actual people. 

This news, coming not long after it was revealed that Patti LuPone likely took the role Meryl was rumored for in the Ari Aster film, leaves us Streepers with only Places, Please to look forward to. It was supposed to begin filming this summer, but we've heard nothing about it since it's original announcement several months ago. For wall we know, they could already be filming. Hopefully we'll get some casting news on that soon. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Addendum to recasting--Part V (1992): "A League of Their Own"

I 'officially' end this thirteen month-long project with the 1992 sports comedy-drama, A League of Their Own. All I seem to think about when referencing this movie is summer. It's incredibly nostalgic for me that way, as I've grown up as a fan of Major League Baseball, and this film captured the sort of old-timey and even rural appeal of America's favorite pastime. That definitely hit home for me as a twelve year-old living across the street from a corn field fifty miles outside Minneapolis. 

I've wondered for some time how Meryl would fare in a film for which she had to perform some kind of athletic event. We've seen in a physical role like The River Wild, but never in something that required the specific kind of coordination necessary for a sport like baseball. I've read that Meryl is actually very athletic. Some of her Yale classmates have remarked how she was always good at everything, including sports. I have to admit that I can kind of see it. She seems to have a great sense and control of her physicality, and that often translates into athletic performance. Director Penny Marshall specifically sought out actresses who could be passable as adept ball players. She apparently denied several very good actors roles because they simply sucked at the sport. It was a real standard she held, and it shows in the film's cast. 

The uncertainty of Meryl's baseball abilities isn't the only obstacle to picturing her potentially being suitable for the lead role originated by Geena Davis. Streep would've been 42 when this movie filmed. The majority of the remainder of the cast was a decade younger. But similar to my post last week on The Silence of the Lambs, I'd like to make a reasonable argument for how it may have worked in regard to Meryl's age--and I don't think it means ageing up the character of Dottie Hinson.  

It's widely known that Debra Winger was all set to play the role of Hinson. Some accounts attest her dropping out a couple of weeks before shooting to a back injury. But director Penny Marshall has gone on record saying that Winger didn't want to be a part of the film after Madonna was cast. She apparently thought Madonna's participation would turn the production into a circus. Incidentally, Winger was also a replacement for Demi Moore, who dropped out after she became pregnant. Geena Davis stepped in last minute, and after an audition (which was mostly about seeing whether or not Davis could "play"), was cast. She had very little time to prepare before shooting began. 

So let's imagine there had been some connection with Meryl. She had given birth to the last of her four children in early June 1991. There's no way she would've ever planned to film something that summer. But what if in this situation, she had somehow learned of Winger's departure, had been sent the script, and really felt like doing it. Something that would be a big physical challenge postpartum. A role that, on paper, was expected to go to someone in her twenties or early thirties. It would've been a fairly impulsive move at that stage. But the draw of a big hit might've been lure enough. Couple that with a shooting schedule that may have reasonably started late summer. A twelve week maternity leave would've put that at the first week of September. Not too crazy to imagine. And Winger was less than six years younger than Meryl (Davis seven), so I expect that our disbelief could probably have been suspended. 

What's interesting about the age thing is that the character of Dottie, to me, always seems so much the big sister and much more the contemporary of Tom Hanks's character. Davis of course fits that perfectly and played it well. But it might be even more believable with Meryl in that role. Perhaps more a thread of the elder sister who too has had dreams deferred on a rural farm with a husband fighting in World War II. There are some elements that could add layers to the complexity of the character. Her age, as a sort of matronly figure among the younger girls in the league, could be played up to greater contrast. And maybe near the end where Dottie mentions that she and Bob "want to have kids," what if the line were simply changed to "want to try having kids again?" There's a general undertone of melancholy enveloping Dottie's character. A mixture of her worry about the safety of her husband, and her strong, yet seemingly stifled desire to participate in the league. She's of a personality that finds it abhorrent to demonstrate any sense of vanity, even though she's both the best player and the prettiest. As a small aside, I think Streep and Lori Petty pass much more easily as sisters than do Petty and either Debra Winger or Geena Davis.


With this last film in my recasting addendum, we have seen consecutive roles in a television miniseries, a sci-fi action flick, an epic Western, a psychological horror/thriller, and a sports dramedy. Two are contemporary settings, two are period pieces, and one takes place in the future. Not a bad quintet of varied roles and genres. 

I've mentioned over the course of this project that I plan to do the same thing for supporting roles. I'm just not sure when I'll start that, exactly. I also fully expect to continue my list of recasted lead roles for each year in the future. For now, however, I look forward to focusing a bit more of the blog on Streep's upcoming project(s), and of course speculating on what else she might have in store for us in the coming months. Thanks again to everyone who's read and contributed to this very fun series over the past year!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Addendum to recasting--Part IV (1991): "The Silence of the Lambs"

One of my all-time favorites. Thinking back, I can't believe I watched this for the first time when I was twelve years-old. Knowing my parents, if we had sat down to watch something on HBO, for example, and this movie came on, I have no doubt they would not have let me continue watching at that age. But curious kids are curious kids, and I was aware of the films box-office success even way back then. When I saw it listed in the TV guide as being broadcast on cable, you better believe I tuned in, alone in the privacy of our basement. I remember my dad eventually knew I'd seen it, as my cousin and I asked him what the c-word was. He wasn't exactly thrilled, but he didn't put up much of a fuss. I ended up recording the film on our VCR

I imagine some readers may be wondering, "Are you suggesting Meryl for the role of special agent Clarice Starling? But she's too old!" The answer is yes. As this is possibly my favorite movie, and absolutely consider it one of a handful that most shaped my love of cinema (and no doubt my morbid fascination with serial murderers), I really wanted to include it among my recasting selections. To do that, I have to suggest some changes to the iconic character originated by Jodie Foster. Namely, her age. Hear me out. 

We know that one of the main features of Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs is that she's a young FBI trainee. Someone likely in her twenties. Inexperienced. Smart, but unsure. It's an important part of the dynamic between her and the super sophisticated nuance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played brilliantly by the great Sir Anthony Hopkins). But what if we imagine the character was, say, 35--nearing the cutoff point at which candidates will no longer be considered for becoming an agent for the FBI. Meryl would've been 40 at the time this movie filmed in the fall of 1989 (its release was pushed to early '91, as Orion Pictures wanted to focus its awards attention on another little film they had in their quiver that year, Dances with Wolves). So, absolutely no issue with Meryl playing 35. For whatever reason, I picture her character having a ponytail and bangs. Seems like it would make her appear a bit younger. And if we consider the history we learn about from Clarice, where she becomes an orphan and runs away from a relative's ranch and is then sent to an orphanage, it might be an even more compelling history if it took longer for her to scrape up the means for college at UVA (perhaps having to work and go to night school over the course of six to eight years), to then work her way up to the training academy. That might be more of an accomplishment. The stakes would higher with her working against the clock a bit in regard to age. But not so long in the tooth that she'd lose that important sense of innocence and "greenness" Clarice needs. What a fun prospect to imagine Meryl working to convey all that. 

One of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history. And I'm not sure if Meryl has done a West Virginian accent quite like this one--always fun to consider. While this film is arguably very character-driven, the aspects of a genre film are in there. Many would classify it as a true horror film, or a psychological thriller. Meryl's never quite done something as edgy as Silence of the Lambs was for its time. The movie was an example of how a film released early in the year could actually do well at the Oscars. And that it did, winning the top five (Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, and Screenplay--only It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest managed to do that previously, and none have since). It was also a major box-office success, with a worldwide gross of $273 million against only a $19 million budget. 

I will say that while I maintain that this film is brilliant, I wonder if it would be as well-received today. The character of Buffalo Bill doesn't exactly show transgender individuals in the greatest of lights. I understand that even Dr. Lecter explains that Buffalo Bill isn't a "real transsexual," yet it's a little difficult to look back on this picture and not sort of get the impression of transgender folks having been depicted as a bit crazy. Some may think it's not a great look when gender identity is obliquely utilized as a tool to showcase creepy characters. I don't tend to view it quite that severely, but it's worth mentioning the film isn't a perfect picture. Although it's nice to see a woman lead in a movie who doesn't have a romantic relationship as part of the story--hopefully that's not negated by the gruesome fact that the story follows a killer of women. But it's sort of representative of the types of films Jodie Foster seemed to gravitate toward. 

In the end, I think this could've been an incredibly exciting role and story to see interpreted through Meryl's characterization. Next week, I'll "officially" wrap up this recasting series when I take on a lighter film from the summer of 1992. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Addendum to recasting--Part III (1990): "Dances with Wolves"

Way back in 2012, I bemoaned in my inaugural post of the Shoulda Coulda Wouldas tag how much I wished I could've seen Meryl tackle the role of Stands with a Fist from Dances with Wolves. I ended up including this film in my Reimagined history of her career. As I've mentioned in earlier posts in this recasting project, I've realized that the Shoulda Coulda Wouldas section has turned out to be the well from which I sort of designate roles into my two 'alternative' careers I like to imagine Streep having. I think Dances with Wolves ultimately fits better into my recasting project. 

Like the two previous choices from this recasting addendum, Dances with Wolves holds a prominent place in my memory as one of the films that helped shaped my interest in cinema. It's for this reason that I didn't wait for my supporting role recasting project to include this pic. I'm not sure if I saw it for the first time today if I would regard the film as highly as I do. But it's next to impossible to accurately gauge the answer to such a question when I've held such nostalgic fondness for this film over the years.

I first saw the movie shortly after it was released to home video. I would've been around eleven or twelve at the time. It's interesting how depending on what's going on in our lives at any given point, certain experiences can have memorable impact. We may not notice or realize it at the time, but looking back, what I saw on the screen in this movie was a community I'd learned about and thought about, but never really seen depicted in such a vivid way. I'd spent a lot of time in the north woods area of Minnesota growing up, where Native American influence and culture was obvious even to my young eyes. I can remember visiting a place called Deep Portage, a wilderness learning center, and was fascinated by the stories and replicas of the indigenous peoples' way of life. The focus was more on the Ojibwe people, not the Sioux (I say "Sioux," as that it what they call themselves in the film--I suspect Lakota is a more accurate term, while Sioux includes more than one group of people and language), but regardless, when I saw Dances with Wolves, it was like my curiosity had been brought to life in the form of a sweeping epic. 

The actual role of Stands with a Fist is of course a fascinating one. Not that the idea of a white child taken in and raised by Native Americans was a brand new idea. But the position she finds herself in, having to try to translate for her tribe and adoptive father, all while still in mourning from the passing of her own husband, offers a juicy start to the character's arc.

So many emotions to convey in just this one scene. Fear, frustration, sadness, surprise. Maybe a glint of attraction. Mary McDonnell does a tremendous job here. I remember seeing an interview with director/star Kevin Costner about the movie, where he states that he specifically wanted an actress for the role who "had lines on her face." Meryl is only three years older than McDonnell, and easily could've portrayed this character form an age standpoint. Then of course there's the fun aspect of language she would've gotten to tackle. Not only having to sound like you speak fluent Lakota, but also figuring out what the character would sound like in English! She hadn't spoken it since she was a child, and I think it's so fascinating to imagine how much we would lose if we didn't use it. When we started to try to recall words, which parts would come back to us? Certainly not always automatically the first syllables. I think Meryl would've dug deep into the nature of how all that would begin to resurface. 

I've read some items over the years that this film is just another white savior movie. It think that's a bit of a copout. If anything, I think it's the Native Americans who save the white guy. I can remember even as child never once considering that the white folks' way of life in this film was in any way superior to that of the Sioux people. I'm also not naive to the fact that the Sioux are almost depicted as a utopian society in this movie, which certainly is not historically factual. But they're probably closer to it than any of the cities in the United States during and around the time of The Civil War. 

Regardless of any of the historical considerations, Dances with Wolves is and will remain a special movie for me. With its broad, beautiful landscape, convincing performances, and endlessly engaging musical score, I know I'll continue to revisit it in the future. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Looks like no Ari Aster film for Meryl

Not the kind of news I want to see on Meryl's birthday! I'm always sad to learn that fun-sounding projects she's rumored for turn out not to include her. Deadline reported some casting news for Ari Aster's film with Joaquin Phoenix, Disappointment Blvd., and Streep's name was nowhere to be found. Patti LuPone is listed as co-starring, so there's a very strong possibility that the role for which Meryl's name was floated had gone to her instead. 

It's too bad. Would've loved to see Meryl work alongside Phoenix. And Aster would likely be a departure in tone from a lot of the stuff we usually see Meryl in. Maybe she couldn't do this because she's actually going to be too busy filming Babylon or Places, Please. Either way, hopefully we get official word that she's shooting something very soon. 

Happy 72nd, Meryl! 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Filming for "Babylon" set for July

There was a tweet posted recently that Damien Chazelle's upcoming film Babylon will be filming in the Santa Clarita Valley in California in July:

I post this because we still have no confirmation of whether or not Meryl will be part of the cast. Her name was floated over a year ago, but nothing has been updated since. Considering filming is supposed to commence within the next few weeks, even if Streep is not in fact going to be in the cast, I expect there should be some news on who will be playing Elinor Glyn (unless for some reason they've cut the role, which I doubt). 

Streep is also set to film Places, Please this summer, and there was also a rumor of her joining Joaquin Phoenix in an Ari Aster film. To be honest, I'll be surprised if she ends up in even two of these projects, much less all three. But one can hope!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

"The Devil Wears Prada" turns 15

 Fifteen years ago this month, The Devil Wears Prada was released in U.S. theaters. While the film was a great critical and commercial success, more importantly, it represented a shift in Meryl's career that many believe skyrocketed her into a level of reverence that no other actress of her generation had ever been able to achieve. She earned her fourteenth Oscar nomination, and at the age of 57 had found herself an enormous box office draw. In only the five years after the film was release, Meryl enjoyed huge hits like Mamma Mia!, Julie & Julia, and It's Complicated, as well as three additional Oscar nominations (winning of course for 2011's The Iron Lady). 

It's difficult to overstate how important the success of this film was to the next decade of Meryl's career. Her name alone got films green-lit. And not just because she was a good actor. But because studios expected that she would make them money. That success continues to this day, much in part to how well The Devil Wears Prada was received. To commemorate the film's anniversary, the cast, director David Frankel, and costume designer Patricia Field sat down over a Zoom call with Entertainment Weekly to discuss the film's legacy. Some fun stuff packed into this 30-minute video. Enjoy. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Addendum to recasting--Part II (1989): "The Abyss"

Meryl hasn't really done a good sci-fi pic. Yes, there's The Giver, but that ended up being kind of a stinker. I had included Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the early stages of my recasting project, but inserted her into a supporting role. I'm reminded of Sigourney Weaver's legacy as an action star, having starred in the Alien series, the second of which (Aliens) was directed by James Cameron. I never really got into that movie, but from a young age, I absolutely loved both of his Terminator films, as well as 1989's underwater flick, The Abyss. There's something about the latter film that really captures the feel of what I liked about action movies at the time. There was a fair amount of technology utilized, and the setting was something we'd never really seen before at that level. Yet at the same time, we also get some intimacy and complexity surrounding the close-knit cast of characters who are thrust into the tumultuous scenario driving the film's more entertaining scenes. 

The film follows a crew oil workers who are tasked by the government to aid a SEAL team in recovering a nuclear warhead at the bottom of the ocean. Dr. Lindsey Brigman is the designer of the drilling platform utilized as a base for the operation. It's a bit of a tired trope to have the lady professional depicted as the queen bitch of the universe. But it's probably a fun character to play. Someone who's smarter than everyone else in the room and doesn't suffer fools or a slow pace. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (such a name from the 80s) does a fine job in the role, if perhaps a bit one level in the first half of the film. There are some fun moments of tension and humor between her soon-to-be ex-husband, Bud (Ed Harris), who's the foreman of the rig. 

One of the most memorable moments of cinema from my childhood was watching Lindsey's drowning scene. After Lindsey and Bud are left with only one oxygen tank in a rapidly flooding sub, Lindsey insists Bud use it so he can drag her hypothermic body back to the rig and resuscitate her.

Watching it as an adult, it's a tad far-fetched. From my understanding, using an automated external defibrillator is generally only indicated when someone's heart is beating irregularly, not to "shock it back" to life. CPR would be the usual approach, which they do implement here as well. Some definite artistic license here, but played well for dramatic effect. It's a powerful scene and beautifully acted. The actors create a great sense of collegiality in their reactions to Lindsey eventually coming around. I have to imagine drowning would be one of the most horrible ways to die. The feeling of having to finally take in a breath and only having water enter your lungs? Super scary. And it feels super scary for Lindsey in this scene. Would've been fun to see how Meryl played it. I did tend to wonder why Lindsey didn't seem more affected after the fact, considering Bud was basically beating the shit out of her when she lay there on the submersible deck. Her ribs and chest would've been so sore, I imagine it would've made her ability to speak normally very difficult in the days following. Lindsey seems to have recovered pretty well when she's guiding Bud down the Cayman Trough, based on the way Mastrantonio plays it. 

This film is so stamped in my mind as sort of encapsulating the feel of several movies in the genre around the late 80s and early 90s. Terminator 2: Judgement Day is a big one, as I eluded above, Die Hard, even Rocky IV, with its capitalizing on Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union (although interesting that The Abyss is set in 1994 when there actually was no longer such a thing as the U.S.S.R.).  I don't know if it was just a style around the time, or maybe that The Abyss has so many scenes underwater, but everything has a blue-like tinge to it, particularly in scenes without natural lighting, that seem very reminiscent of the time. It's easy to forget that The Abyss isn't just an action film. There's an alien marine life that ends up saving Bud at the bottom of the ocean. Some of the greatest special effects for the time were employed for this film (it won the Oscar for it that year), particularly the face-mimicking water formation into which the alien choses to take shape. The idea of there being technology that allows humans to breathe water to minimize the effects of the oceans pressure was always a cool prospect to think about, even as an adult. 

It's interesting that in Meryl's real filmography, 1989 marked a very distinct shift in the type of movie in which we usually saw her. She-Devil may have some fun tidbits, but in general, it's not a strong movie. This was the first time Streep took on a true comedy role, which she ended up doing more of over the next few years in the early 90s. I wonder if she had taken the risk of participating in something like The Abyss, would it have resulted in a major difference in what we could've expected from her shortly afterward, or what she would've been offered? The Abyss wasn't a huge box-office success, but it did fairly well with critics, and I think it's often considered an underrated movie these days. From what I've read, filming under James Cameron was extremely difficult for the cast. But maybe it could've been the same kind of physical toil Meryl had to endure when she learned how to white water raft in 1994's The River Wild. I'd take her in The Abyss over that or She-Devil any day. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Addendum to recasting--Part I (1988): "Bluegrass"

As I mentioned at the end of my final "official" selection of this project, I'm going to add a series of five entries that sort of encapsulate what has historically appealed to me about cinema. The more I think and write about Meryl Streep's career on screen, the more I'm reminded of how I got here. It's no accident how I ended up latching on to someone who's able to portray such a wide variety of characters. In Meryl, I get to vicariously experience worlds that I, almost without realizing, have loved imagining from an early age. 

The fact that many of the films that have shaped my taste in cinema also happen to showcase interesting and complex women is also probably not a surprise, considering where my interests obviously lie now. The 1988 CBS miniseries, Bluegrass, is one such example. Directed by Simon Wincer (Free Willy), I was eight at the time this was released, and from my first viewing I was in love. When it was replayed a couple of years later, after my family had acquired its first VCR, I managed to realize it in time to record the second half. I damn near wore that tape out over the years. Not until well into my 30s, perhaps after finding a clip on YouTube, did I acquire a bootleg DVD copy woefully transferred from VHS. The scenes from part one were surprisingly fresh in my memory. 

I should probably clarify that this miniseries didn't necessarily shape my taste in movies, so much as it was one of the things I watched over and over. Maybe it's more accurate that my interest in it more showcased what I liked, and the kind of lives I enjoyed seeing captured on screen. To some degree, I've found in looking back that it's often what I think I've enjoy about seeing such a wide variety of people and worlds portrayed in Streep films. In Bluegrass, we follow Maude Breen, a widow who heads back to her native Kentucky to get a fresh start. She buys a rundown farm and is considered a bit of an outsider, as her neighbor is a high-profile thoroughbred breeder and judge (Wayne Rogers), who also just happens to be someone who tried to rape her as a teen. She sparks a romance with her alcoholic farm manager (Brian Kerwin), and navigates a love triangle involving him and a charming Irishman (Anthony Andrews--bizarrely with an English accent), who ends up almost destroying her farm by introducing a diseased mare into the fold. 

It was all very sophisticated to my young brain. I've watched it multiple times as an adult (still waiting for a high-quality version) and that sense of adult intrigue has of course softened a bit. But I still think it's a very entertaining and well-acted production for network television in the 80s. No doubt there's a nostalgic aspect in it for me. It does hearken back to the tropes of wealth and excess so often displayed in that decade (thinking Dallas and Dynasty), though Bluegrass feels less crass about it, even to this day. 

I always thought Cheryl Ladd was so pretty. And Brian Kerwin is a dreamboat. I'm reminded of the great supporting turn of Mickey Rooney. Also that of Diane Ladd (no relation), who although not shown in the video, has some of the best one-liners among the large cast of characters. There are next to no clips out there of this film, but in these few scenes, we get to see a bit of the moxie in Maude's character. It's perhaps a bit overdone on occasion, but I like the conflicts of her trying to hold her own in a very male-dominated world. That wasn't necessarily depicted with regularity at the time. Of course there was like zero chance Meryl was ever going to star in something like this. And I don't think it's realistic to imagine she ever would've if the timing had just been right. That doesn't stop me from the imagining how she may have interpreted certain scenes, perhaps adding her two cents in regard to certain aspects of the script where she could've imbued some more complexity or gravitas to the character and her history. She also would've gotten to ride horses and try her hat at a Kentucky accent. It's a shame the series didn't garner any strong critical or awards attention. Although Wincer is credited with bolstering the popularity of the miniseries with his following year's highly successful project, Lonesome Dove

These days, I tend to think horse racing is a bit of a barbaric business. More and more we hear about animals having to be euthanized on the track due to injury. Of course I didn't think about things like that at the time Bluegrass was released. And I still like to tune in the first Saturday of May each year to watch the two most exciting minutes in sports. For years I collected model horses, which as an adult seems WAY gayer than I ever considered as a preteen. My interest was boosted when my uncle bought a pair of Arabians for his farm, and he arranged for some riding lessons for me and my cousins. I'm not sure if the series was really the catalyst for an interest in horses, or more that I watched it on repeat because the interest was already there. Either way, I'm still drawn to the allure of that gentile setting depicted on the ranches of Bluegrass. Does anyone reading this know someone at CBS who can finally get us a decent-quality copy to view? If so, kindly send them my way. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Recasting 2020: "Nomadland"

Exactly one year ago today, I posted my first selection in this recasting project. I hadn't planned to make it such a tidy timeline. But last week, when I thought about how close I was to the end, I decided to look back and check just what the date actually was. It's sort of a nice button to put on this whole thing. My intent in making my selections was to pick roles that diverge from things we've seen Meryl do before, many of which were from films that happen to be special to me in one way or another. After fifty-two weeks and forty-five films, I hope I've done the process justice. 

And what a film to end with. It's been only a little over a month since the drama Nomadland took home the big prize at the Oscars, along with a Best Director award for Chloé Zhao, and a third win for Frances McDormand in Best Actress. McDormand plays Fern, a woman in Nevada who's husband has recently died, and who loses her job after the gypsum plant in her town shuts down. She decides to purchase a van and essentially become a nomad, taking temporary or seasonal work where she can. She travels to Arizona to join up with a community of other nomads, learning how to survive with very little. 

The film was based on the nonfiction book of the same name, which follows how older Americans during the Great Recession (around 2008) adopted transient lifestyles. Many folks found themselves out of work and close to retirement, and decided to reject the usual nine-to-five of corporate America to hit the road and explore the vastness of the American landscape. Several of the real-life people depicted in the book portray themselves in the film. Fern eventually befriends a fellow nomad named Dave (David Strathairn), whom she ends up visiting at his son's home. Dave reveals his feelings for Fern, and offers to let her stay with him and his family for good. Fran declines and ends up returning to the Arizona community. It's here toward the end that we get a more intimate glimpse into how she got to where she is now.

There are some similarities in the tone of this film and that of Ironweed. Maybe it's because I'm not a person who's even remotely interested in abandoning certain creature comforts, but I found myself a bit anxious throughout both films. Fern's situation is far less dire than Helen's, yet there's a certain underlying melancholy felt around both women's existences. I don't get the sense that Fran necessarily wants to live the life of a nomad. She was more compelled in some way in the aftermath of her husband's death, and the loss of her both her town and job. McDormand does a great job with the complexity of that. She's pulled in different directions. She's got the support, encouragement, and validation from her fellow nomads. Then there's her sister, and residents of her former town who are perplexed and put off by her choice to live the way she is. Again, it's a job well done by McDormand, for example, when explaining to a friend that she's not "homeless," just "houseless."  There are nuances in those sorts of uncomfortable interactions that would fun to see Meryl play. 

I like the theme of not waiting until you're too old or decrepit to actually live a little. Granted, some might not consider the life depicted in Nomadland as a particularly attractive one, but it is to the folks who embrace it. I suppose each of us has some ideal concept or vision of what life can be like like beyond the toil of what's required of us to earn a living. It may not be in a van, but it's somewhere or something.

The film was an overwhelming critical success (94% on Rotten Tomatoes and 93 score on Metacritic). It's cinematography is stunning, and even more impressive considering how bleak some of the scenes likely seemed to be on paper. McDormand's Oscar win may have surprised a few people. It was one of those years where I could have seen four of the five nominees legitimately coming away with a win. With hers, McDormand became only the second woman to ever win three lead acting trophies at the Academy Awards (Katharine Hepburn has four). I'm not super interested in analyzing what it means (if anything) for Meryl's legacy. Streep could still win another one...or two. So could McDormand. I tend to think McDormand's second win only three years ago for Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri should have one hundred percent gone to Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water. 

But we could go down that endless rabbit hole of who did and who should've all day long. It doesn't help answer the question of who the better actor is (if that's even an answerable thing). It's perplexing that Bette Davis, for example, has only two Oscars, while Hepburn has four. I wouldn't put up much of a fuss if someone used that example as a fair comparison of Streep and McDormand's film careers thus far. In the end, I'm just glad to see such great films getting made that showcase women (particularly women of a certain age demographic). It raises the question of whether Meryl might find herself producing more projects in the future the way McDormand does. Places, Please may be the start of that. 

While this is officially the last entry in my recasting cannon for Meryl, in the coming weeks, I'll be posting about five films that I'll consider an "addendum" to the current list. The selections cover a brief stretch of time that, looking back, sort of shaped my taste in cinema, and that all happened (not surprisingly in retrospect) to include memorable roles for women. And stay tuned in the future for when I do a full recasting of supporting performances! Until then, I'll leave you with the full list of lead roles from the past year of this project. My great admiration goes out to all the monumentally talented performers who originated the roles listed below. 

1976: Hester Street (Gitl) 
1977: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Jillian Guiler) 
1978: Julia (Julia) 
1979: The Rose (Mary Rose Foster) 
1980: American Gigolo (Michelle Stratton) 
1981: Reds (Louise Bryant) 
1982: Frances (Frances Farmer) 
1983: Romancing the Stone (Joan Wilder) 
1984: A Passage to India (Adela Quested) 
1985: Agnes of God (Dr. Martha Livingston) 
1986: Crimes of the Heart (Rebecca Magrath/Babe Botrell) 
1987: Anna (Anna) 
1988: Gorillas in the Mist (Dian Fossey) 
1989: Dangerous Liaisons (Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil) 
1990: The Grifters (Lilly Dillon) 
1991: Fried Green Tomatoes (Evelyn Couch) 
1992: Blue Sky (Carly Marshall) 
1993. The Piano (Ada McGrath) 
1994: Dolores Claiborne (Dolores Claiborne) 
1995: Copycat (Helen Hudson) 
1996: Dead Man Walking (Sister Helen Prejean) 
1997: As Good as It Gets (Carol Connelly) 
1998: Primary Colors (Susan Stanton) 
1999: American Beauty (Carolyn Burnham) 
2000: Requiem for a Dream (Sara Goldfarb) 
2001: The Contender (Laine Billings Hanson) 
2002: In the Bedroom (Ruth Fowler) 
2003: Panic Room (Meg Altman) 
2004: Vera Drake (Vera Drake) 
2005: Elizabeth I (Queen Elizabeth I) 
2006: Notes on a Scandal (Barbara Covett) 
2007: Frozen River (Ray Eddy) 
2008: Grey Gardens (Edith Bouvier Beale) 
2009: The Last Station (Sophia Tolstaya) 
2010: The Kids Are All Right (Nicole Allgood) 
2011: The Debt (Rachel Singer) 
2012: Saving Mr. Banks (P.L. Travers) 
2013: The Hundred-Foot Journey (Madame Mallory) 
2014: Olive Kitteridge (Olive Kitteridge) 
2015: Hello, My Name is Doris (Doris Miller) 
2016: Julieta (Julieta) 
2017: Feud (Joan Crawford) 
2018: The Wife (Joan Castleman) 
2019: Catherine the Great (Catherine the Great) 
2020: Nomadland (Fern)

Roles by originating actress:

Helen Mirren (5)
Jessica Lange (4)
Kathy Bates (2)
Anette Bening (2)
Glenn Close (2)
Frances McDormand (2)
Sissy Spacek (2)
Emma Thompson (2)
Sigourney Weaver (2)
Joan Allen (1)
Ellen Burstyn (1)
Judy Davis (1)
Judi Dench (1)
Melinda Dillon (1)
Sally Field (1)
Jane Fonda (1)
Jodie Foster (1)
Helen Hunt (1)
Holly Hunter (1)
Anjelica Huston (1)
Lauren Hutton (1)
Carole Kane (1)
Diane Keaton (1)
Sally Kirkland (1)
Melissa Leo (1)
Bette Midler (1)
Vanessa Redgrave (1)
Susan Sarandon (1)
Imelda Staunton (1)
Emma Suárez (1)
Kathleen Turner (1)

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Recasting 2019: "Catherine the Great"

This selection was both easy and tough at the same time. Way back in 2012, I posted a Wish List entry where I suggested how fun it would be to see Meryl star in a feature film about the Russian empress, Catherine the Great. I've long been fascinated by the political changes that swept Western civilization in the latter half of the 18th century. The French Revolution, the United States winning its independence from Britain's mad king George III. And of course, Russia emerging as a modern European power. The Age of Enlightenment brought forth incredible advances in free thought, scientific discovery, and the separation of church and state. Important stuff in my view. 

After 2005's Elizabeth I, Nigel Williams was apparently interested in writing another limited series for Helen Mirren. The latter of the two would focus on the powerful, and historically maligned, Catherine II. On the surface, one might think it's just another costume drama involving a royal court. I admit, there are definite similarities when comparing Mirren's roles of Elizabeth and Catherine. But as Mirren herself has said in interviews, they're very different personalities, and their reigns took place two centuries apart. Elizabeth's character showed extremes of joy, jealousy and rage. Catherine, while no stranger to strong emotion, seemed to rule a bit more with her head than her heart. With it, she held enormous power in Russia. It's such an interesting paradox, this idea of what I've read termed 'enlightened despotism.' Catherine had usurped her husband's throne after orchestrating his death. And despite all her progressive interests and education, she ruled as an absolute monarch. 

The four-part HBO series starts when Catherine is supposed to be around 35, not long after she assumed control of the throne. Obviously that's a bit of a stretch for Mirren (or Meryl), but we sort of forget about that with depictions of people from so long ago. I've actually watched the series twice at this point. In my more recent viewing, I enjoyed it more than I remembered. I had such high hopes for a project featuring Catherine the Great that I was initially disappointed in my first viewing by what felt like a truncated telling of her last two decades of rule. I feel like the project could've been better served by an additional one to two episodes. There's so much to cover. The Russo-Turkish wars, the annexation of Crimea, the volatile relationship she has with her son regarding the question of succession. And of course, her many male suitors. Mirren comments in a separate interview how one of her goals in taking on this role was to help reshape Catherine's legacy. There's a stench of misogyny in many historians' accounts of Catherine, particularly in regard to the fact she was known to enjoy sex. Imagine that. And no, she never fucked a horse. 

One of the main differences I notice between this series and Elizabeth I is the production value. The scenes, cinematography, and costumes are all stunning and expensive-looking. While perhaps a bit dark, we get a good feel for the northern climate and dimness of imperial palaces. A large arc of Catherine's character involves her relationship with Grigory Potemkin, finely played by Jason Clarke. The relationship was a tumultuous one, as there was this constant sense of dissatisfaction on Potemkin's part over not ever really being able to hold the power he envied in Catherine, and her clear reminders that any of his successes are only because of her. 

Helen Mirren is a brilliant actor. But I struggle to get a good sense of the passage of time as it pertains to her portrayal, aside from the increased grey we see in her hair. Only toward the very end do we see a sad, paranoid change in the empress, even to the point that she overseas the burning of books that espouse ideas that may threaten her power. There's also the question of language. Much like The Last Station, this is a period piece that takes place in Russia, where most, if not all the actors speak with a British accent. I understand it's not reasonable to shoot the whole thing with the cast speaking Russian or French or German. But I still wonder how that question may have been handled if Meryl had been in the lead role. I think it may have helped the whole production feel a little less like it was produced by the BBC. 

Critical reception was decent. The series holds a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes and score of 61 on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable" reviews. The writing isn't exactly inspired, but the acting and set design make it worth the watch. Mirren managed to score a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Film. The award that year went to a very deserving Michelle Williams in Fosse/Verdon. 

Catherine the Great was a complex woman ruling a large country in a rapidly changing world. It's a shame some of the intrigue of her life is dampened by the imperfections of this series. But I think it's still worth the watch. Can't believe we're already coming around to the final selection of this project next week!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Recasting 2018: "The Wife"

The first time I saw The Wife in the fall of 2018, I came away pleasantly surprised. Buzz had been swirling around Glenn Close since the film premiered at the Tonto Film Festival a year earlier. I know there are a lot of people who don't think her performance or the role itself was all that special. But I happen to be a huge fan of both Close's performance and the film, and would've loved to see Meryl interpret the character of Joan Castleman. 

Jonathan Pryce plays the "the husband," Joe Castleman, who's recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Joan's not exactly thrilled about it, because at it turns out, she's the one who's actually written all of Joe's books over the years. We get flashbacks to the late 50s, when Joan was a student in one of Joe's classes. When he receives criticism for the quality of his novel, Joan ends of editing it, turning it to a best-seller. And so it went for the Castlemens over the years, all leading up to their trip to Stockholm for Joe's acceptance of a prize that should've gone to his wife. 

That would be such a great scene to play. I expect anyone in this role would have their work cut out for them in regard to how much emotion they have to hold back. From the beginning, Joan is in a strange spot. Yes, there is excitement about the honor her husband is getting, and maybe even a sense of some validation in knowing that the work--mostly of her doing--is getting recognized on such a large stage. Then there's the resentment one would no doubt experience in having to watch someone else get all the credit. We get a sense of that building as the film progresses. 

Christian Slater plays biographer Nathaniel Bone, who travels to Stockholm in an attempt to get some inside info on Joe. He reveals to Joan over drinks and cigarettes that he suspects that she has indeed been the real creator of Joe's very successful string of novels. In this scene as well, it's a fine line Joan walks. She considers Nathaniel an opportunistic pest, and denies his suggestions. But at the same time, one can't help but get a sense that she likes the fact that someone might understand she's the real literary genius, not her adulterous husband. 

Of course, all these pent up feelings end up coming out in the film's climax, where Joan and Joe have it out back in their hotel room. This feels like the definition of an Oscar clip:

That left eye blink at 0:26 is pretty wild. This is great stuff from Close. She scored both Golden Globe and SAG wins for her performance, and was the odd-on favorite to take home her first Oscar statuette on her seventh nomination. Olivia Colman captured the gold that night for her splendid performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite. Hers was probably the only performance I was OK with triumphing over a long-overdue Glenn. 

Critic responses to the film were favorable, with it holding a very solid 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 77 score on Metacritic. It's actually the kind of movie I can watch multiple times. I love the cozy feel surrounding the Nobel ceremony festivities, and the acting is world class. I'm still bummed that Close wasn't able to come away with a win for this. It's a wonderful, challenging role. Maybe it just paves the way for her to finally win the big one if she can manage to scrape together the funding for Sunset Boulevard. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Recasting 2017: "Feud"

This one was sort of a no-brainer. All the way back in 2014 when I posted my full Reimagined Filmography, I had wondered if there was a chance for Meryl to star alongside Susan Sarandon in the blacklisted script, Best Actress. Three years later, the story was expanded into an eight-episode series on FX. I added it to my Shoulda Coulda Wouldas tag in 2019, which at the time, I had thought would serve as my list of films to somehow try to go back and insert into the aforementioned reimagined history. I've already covered in an earlier post how the shear number of films in consideration became too much, sparking this new project. 

Ryan Murphy apparently had Jessica Lange in mind to star opposite Sarandon early on. Lange had enjoyed enormous success following her starring roles in the first four seasons of American Horror Story. The role of Joan Crawford may not have seemed like the meatier part when held up to the larger-than-life character of Bette Davis. But I'd argue that Lange got to explore a wider range of emotions in trying to work out someone as complex and tragic as Crawford. 

The story follows Crawford and Davis in the early 1960s, whereby that point, the two are basically has-beens in the film industry (they were in their mid 50s btw). Crawford aimed desperately for returning to the spotlight. Davis did too, in a way, but more from an aspect of just wanting to have good parts to play for the sake of the work itself. While the two were not huge fans of each other, Crawford understood that the only way she was going to get Warner Brothers to allow director Robert Aldrich to make Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was if they had Bette Davis attached as well. Crawford was savvy that way, even if it may have singed the very fiber of her being to have to concede the necessity of doing so. The picture got made and was a huge box office success. But it did not result in a deluge of new offers afterward, and Davis got the majority of the critics' praise for her performance. 

Aside from it making me want to smoke really bad, I think this may be my favorite scene of the entire series. We get a glimpse into the depravity of Crawford's childhood. In a way, it almost seems obvious that she would grow into a domineering mother whose insatiable quest for attention and validation only drives her to drink, and drives those she loves away. Kudos to Lange for her portrayal here. I think Meryl would have her work cut out for her to convey the kind of ruthless sophistication Lange manages to imbue into the role. I wish I could think of a better antonym for naive, because I'd use it to describe this character. 

What's so nice about expanding this story beyond the making of Baby Jane is that we get to see the aftermath of these two women far beyond the time they spent together on set--although that's some of the best stuff. This clip is an interesting example of how these two women were essentially stars for slightly different reasons. Crawford much for her beauty, Davis for her talent. While I think Meryl happens to be gorgeous, she's not necessarily considered conventionally "pretty" by Hollywood standards. She knows it, and has used it to her advantage, not unlike Davis. Lange, as an actress, has certainly had more opportunities beyond the age of fifty than Crawford did. But Jessica, too, has historically been cast in roles that have often had at least an oblique connection to her sex appeal. It would be fun to see Meryl in that role in Feud. 

The series was a great critical success for FX. It holds a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and 81 on Metacritic, the latter of which is an supposed to be an indication of "universal acclaim." It received eighteen Emmy nominations, including for its two amazing leads. Sarandon and Lange were also both nominated for a Golden Globe (RIP) and SAG awards. Deservedly, supporting players Judy Davis, Jackie Hoffman, Alfred Molina, and Stanley Tucci were each recognized with multiple nominations as well. 

Feud was originally meant to be an anthology series, with the first season more accurately titled Feud: Bette and Joan. The second series was going to follow the lives of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, but was scrapped before filming began. I wonder if after the success of Netflix's The Crown, FX thought the market would've been a bit too saturated with royals for their second season to be a hit. I, for one, kind of like that Feud: Bette and Joan stands alone.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Recasting 2016: "Julieta"

Meryl Streep first met Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar on the awards circuit in 2003. Streep was getting regularly recognized for her work in The Hours and Adaptation, and Almodóvar for his film, Talk to Her. After Alice Munro's book of short stories, Runaway, was released in 2004, Almodóvar reached out to Streep about teaming up to make a film adaptation. In its original form, what we today know as Julieta was to be entitled Silence, with Streep playing the same character at ages 20, 40, and 60. Meryl would've been in her mid to late fifties by the time filming was to take place. Almodóvar recognized the creative license he would be taking by having one actor portray such a broad spectrum of ages, but he's been quoted as saying, "She deserves to be playing the three characters. With her, I wanted to make something Ingmar Bergman-like being Meryl. We know she can do every accent, and I think she can act every age too." That's quite the compliment from such an accomplished filmmaker. 

Alas, Almodóvar reportedly never quite felt confident enough in his English, nor American culture, to do the script justice. He put off making the film until 2015, and when he did, he set it in Madrid and cast Spanish-speaking actors. He later claimed he felt bad for not telling Meryl beforehand. Almodóvar has since made his English language debut with 2020's short film, The Human Voice, starring Tilda Swinton. 

But what if Almodóvar had, by 2015, felt ready to direct in English? And what if he'd still wanted Streep in the film, despite the script being different from what the two had intended ten years prior? All this sounds more akin to how I mull over my "Reimagined" filmography choices for Meryl, but I'm making an exception for this project, as I don't ever picture her being a reasonable replacement for the current version of Julieta. Were the script to be similar in regard the characters' life events, just set in the United States, for example, there might've been a window of opportunity for these two greats to have finally joined forces. 

So...on to the movie. Almodóvar adapted three of Munro's short stories to form the screenplay. Julieta (in English it would've been Juliet) is about to move to Portugal with her boyfriend. But after she runs into a friend of her estranged daughter's (Antía, with whom we later learn shared a romantic relationship with the friend Julieta runs into), Julieta decides to stay in Madrid, renting an apartment in the same building she raised Antía. Julieta writes a journal detailing how she met Antía's father, Xoan, their relationship, his infidelity and death, and her experience of her daughter cutting her out of her life and attempts at reconnecting. 

Now to the casting. Not unlike my thoughts on my recent recasting choice of The Debt, having some resemblance in actors for roles that are supposed to be the same person is a big deal to me. Jennifer Ehle is a spitting image of Meryl at a younger age, and has the chops to handle the younger version of Juliet. 

Ehle and Streep are obviously older than Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez (the junior and senior versions of Julieta, respectively). At the same time, I don't think it's wildly unreasonable to have Juliet be, say 30, instead of 25 at the start of the flashback. She ages some fifteen years over the course of her arc, and Ehle would in that respect be totally passable for the character, as would Meryl--the two are almost exactly twenty years apart in age.

Again, as it pertains to a lead character, Meryl's role size would be similar to aforementioned films like One True ThingThe Devil Wears Prada, Julie & Julia, and August: Osage County (not to mention recasting selections like Fried Green Tomatoes and The Debt). They're borderline, or for other actresses, perhaps easily supporting roles. But for a performer of Streep's pedigree, it garners top billing and a lead push for awards. 

Julieta made many top ten lists in the United States for Best Foreign Language film. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and holds an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 73 on Metacritic, both markers of strong critical support. Suárez had quite the year at the Goya Awards (Spain's national annual film awards), winning Best Actress for Julieta AND Best Supporting Actress for La Propera Pell (The Next Skin). I guess the idea of Meryl going lead for this role wouldn't have been that big of a stretch after all. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Recasting 2015: "Hello, My Name is Doris"

I can remember leading up to Oscar season in 2015, Sally Field was an early awards contender for her performance in Hello, My Name is Doris. It seemed the type of role and performance that would, at the very least, score her a Golden Globe nomination. I still scratch my head a bit when I look back and think about how the best Field was able to manage was a Critics' Choice nomination. 

Meryl might have fared better. I say that with all due respect to Field. It was a wonderful performance and deserved more recognition, in my opinion. Ultimately, and unfortunately, I just don't think the movie was seen by enough people. Field portrays Doris Miller, a 60-something woman from Staten Island who works in a mid-level office job. She's lived with her recently passed mother her whole life, and Doris finds herself alone in a home packed to the gills with decades of hoarded memories. When a handsome young co-worker, John, (Max Greenfield) sparks an infatuation in Doris, she finds the resolve--with a little influence from a lame self-help guru and a friend's teenage granddaughter--to make a play for him. 


The film is funny and awkward and touching all at once. I watched it again this weekend, and for whatever reason I had sort of forgotten the stuff about Doris being a hoarder. It's a fascinating and often tragic compulsion for many. I'm not a psychotherapist, but from what I understand, it's typically observed in individuals who have other diagnosable disorders. Doris is what many people would call eccentric; she dresses sort of quirky, has a few behavioral idiosyncrasies, and is so outdated in her sense of the world that she seems retro hip to John's very "current" friends. She's likely got depression--in part due to a broken engagement she endured at a young age to stay with her mother, and the life deferred in caring for her til the end. There are a lot of interesting layers Meryl would've been able to unfold in all that. And it's a character Streep has definitely not played before. I found it interesting that in an interview, Sally Field summed up the story as "a coming of age, of a person of age." Well put. 

Quick sidebar: One of the more enjoyable aspects of the film for me are the scenes with the great Tyne Daly, who plays Doris's close friend, Roz. Daly gets some of the funnier one-liners. And Roz's devotion to her friend, despite seeing her going down a path that seems destined to only hurt her, provides some welcome tender moments. 

Field, as mentioned, earned terrific reviews. The fact that the film holds an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes makes it even more perplexing that she wasn't able to garner more traction for awards attention. On its meager budget of only $1 million (a total that probably would've grown by 5-10 times had Streep been involved), the film took in around $14 million at the box office. Not exactly peanuts considering its low profile. I think it would've been a great summer release for Meryl, similar to Julie & Julia, Hope Springs, Ricki and the Flash, and Florence Foster Jenkins

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Streep rumored to be joining Joaquin Phoenix in new Ari Aster film

News broke earlier today that Meryl has signed on to star in an upcoming Ari Aster film, entitled Disappointment Blvd. Described as a surrealist horror film, the picture is set to begin filming in late June in Montreal. Joaquin Phoenix is attached as well. Aster is well-known for his first two feature films, Hereditary and Midsommar. 

OK, first off, let me just say that y'all know I love new project news. Both Aster and Phoenix are extremely talented, and it'll be fun to see the final product if this comes to fruition with Meryl's involvement. But a few questions immediately pop into my mind in regard to scheduling and the tone this film is going to take. Considering the film is supposed to begin filming on June 28, I wonder what that means for Meryl's chances of starring in Damien Chazelle's Babylon. The later is rumored to start filming already this spring. However, if Meryl's role in the Aster film is a supporting one (which it sounds like it is), maybe she'd be able to do both. It wouldn't be the first time she's filmed projects in short succession, especially for parts that wouldn't require her to be on set every day. From what I've read in the Babylon script, the role of Elinor Glyn could reasonably be shot in a couple of weeks. 

Then of course there is the lead role Meryl has coming up in Places, Please. That's supposed to be filming in "summer" as well, but that could be a late August start for all we know. Personally, I would of course love if Streep somehow found a way to participate in all three. 

Perhaps the most perplexing piece of all this is what the Aster film is going to be about. The article I cite lists it as a surrealist horror film. But when I view Joaquin Phoenix's upcoming filmography on IMDb, it lists two separate Ari Aster projects: Beau is Afraid and Disappointment Blvd. The link I provided basically states that the two films are the same, with the name Beau is Afraid being ditched for Disappointment Blvd. When one reads the descriptions of each film, however, the taglines are very different. Beau is Afraid is listed as a "four-hour 'nightmare comedy,'" while Disappointment Blvd. reads as "a decades-spanning portrait of one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time." While I'd love to see Meryl in her first horror flick, my hunch is that she's more likely to be participating in the decades-spanning story, which I've also seen described as a melodrama. 

Either way, it's great when Meryl is attached to high-profile features with lauded directors. The next couple of months are going to be fun.