Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Streep to attend gala in honor of Robert de Niro

Several sources are reporting that Meryl will be attending "A Celebration of Film" at the University of Texas on September 24 to honor Robert De Niro. De Niro has apparently provided a portion of the endowment to the University's film preservation archives, and they're holding a gala to raise additional funds. 

I normally don't report on news like this. I prefer to mostly keep my posts to items relating to Meryl's screen career. Not that it's ever a bad idea to promote good works or charitable contributions, but it's not really the goal of this blog to cover Streep's activities unrelated to her own work. I thought I'd make an exception in this case, however, since we've heard almost nothing about her since the very early part of the year. I've seen speculation online that she's critically ill, that she's decided to retire, that she's separated from her husband. I guess any of those could technically be true for all I know (I doubt any of them are), but I was pleased to see that Meryl is alive and likely well and likely just taking one of her usual extended breaks from filming. 

I'm looking forward to news or release details for her upcoming anthology series Extrapolations. And like I've said recently, it could be any day that we learn of plans for her next big project. Patiently waiting.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Recasting 1987 (supporting): "Empire of the Sun"

We continue this supporting recasting project with a selection that most Streepers, upon first reading, will probably think "huh?" It's been fun to go outside of the box a bit with these supporting roles. There's a wider spectrum from which to choose; borderline lead (see Witness) to borderline cameo (Empire of the Sun and--spoiler--my likely upcoming choice for 2011). I first watched Empire of the Sun a couple of years ago when making preliminary selections for which films I might include in this follow-up recasting project. So often I find myself choosing to insert Meryl into roles that not only seem exciting from the character standpoint, but from the backdrop or region of the world in which the movie takes place. Steven's Spielberg's 1987 drama caught my eye for its setting in the less-often portrayed Pacific Theatre of World War II. 

The film is a coming-of-age story that follows the young Jamie Graham (Christian Bale), a British kid living with his rich parents in Shanghai when Japan begins to occupy parts of China in the early 1940s. Jamie gets separated from his parents, and after being taken prisoner, survives by operating a successful trading network in an internment camp. It is here where he develops close relationships with many of the prisoners. He idolizes the American POW camp, especially Basie, an expatriate hustler (John Malkovic), and is sort of reluctantly taken into the "home" of Mr. and Mrs Victor. It's Mrs. Victor whom I've chosen as the role to be recast in this entry. 

Portrayed by Miranda Richardson, the part of shell-shocked Mrs. Victor is one that I've come to learn was likely trimmed down significantly in the editing process. It's a shame too, because while it was never going to be a huge role, there seems to be large enough thread of her character throughout the interment camp scenes (the bulk of the film), that one gets a sense that she was intended to be showcased more in the original script. A British socialite, Mrs. Victor is a sharp contrast to the energy and opportunistic drive that motivates Jamie. She's annoyed by Jamie's naivete and pluck, and half the time looks like she's ready and willing to simply pass on.

We don't fully know whether she's just sad, scared, pissed, or a combination of all three. But the mother-son dynamic is strong enough that she welcomes Jamie back to their bunk after he learns Basie escapes the camp. In some ways, with her quiet and suppressed demeanor in the background (there are tidbits where you can totally get the sense that she's a snooty rich Brit), she's like a ghost figure in the film, her presence weaving through Jamie's experiences and framing them a bit for us in regard to his growing up. 

After the camp is liberated, Jamie makes his way with Mrs. Victor and the rest of the prisoners to a sports stadium filled with confiscated expensive furniture. It's here where Jamie probably completes his "coming of age." Mrs. Victor convinces him to stay put. And as Jamie suggests they "play dead" to not be noticed, he finds that Mrs. Victor isn't pretending in the morning. It's a pretty cool (if sad) scene actually, where the bright light from the Hiroshima bomb is interpreted by Jamie as Mrs. Victor's soul leaving her body. 

Again, it's a shame if it's true that Mrs. Victor was to have a large part in the film. It would've made us care a little more about her death, I think, which only helps the impact of the movie. I realize that this role might seem like there'd be too little for Meryl to do. But I can imagine her in the mid to late 80s making herself available if her agent had given her the script--since it would be working with Steven Spielberg--which up to that point she hadn't. She would've been fascinating to watch in an understated role like this. I would've preferred if there'd been something in The Last Emperor, a superior film released in the same year that also takes place mostly in China, but without it being so much through the scope of a white person. I also wish I would've seen Empire closer to the time that it came out. It would've been extremely easy for me to imagine myself in Jamie's place, having been only a few years younger than he was depicted on the screen. What a whirlwind and frightening journey for someone so young. 

Empire of the Sun wasn't quite the box-office hit like so many of Spielberg's movies had been earlier in that decade. But it received a ton of tech recognition at the Academy Awards and generally did well with critics. The film is beautifully shot. Very much an epic landscape and story. I also happen to think Bale's performance is stunning for someone so young. In general, the film is finely acted, with Miranda Richard's (downsized undersized) performance no exception. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Recasting 1986 (supporting): "The Clan of the Cave Bear"

I warned readers at the start of this supporting recasting project that some of my choices were going to be a bit obscure. My pick for 1986 is one that I suspect few, if any, would've ever guessed. But I seemed to have had this movie in mind rather early on in my selection process. And while it may leave many of you scratching your heads, I'll make an argument for while it would've been a fascinating take for Meryl. 

The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first novel in author Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series, which depicts interactions between early modern humans and our close relatives, Neanderthals. While I never read the books, I can remember distinctly as a child being drawn to the story of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon girl who is adopted by a clan of Neanderthals somewhere around 30,000 years ago. The draw was less about Ayla herself as a character, but the world. The world that was so long ago that it seemed and still seems like a fantasy. Films around the same time like Legend, The NeverEnding Story and Willow conjured a similar feeling--perhaps naturally, as they're all fantasy films. But I always knew that Neanderthals weren't puppets or fairies or flying pink dragons. They were real. Evidence of their existence remains today. We could hold them in our hands. And it was the first time that I can remember watching an entire film that keenly attempted to showcase what it was like for people in times earlier than my brain is capable of comprehending or contextualizing. 

Daryl Hannah stars as Ayla in the film version, directed by Michael Chapman (All the Right Moves). As a young girl, Ayla is separated from her mother during an earthquake. She is found by Iza (Meryl's recasted character, originally portrayed by Pamela Reed), the sort of medicine woman of a Neanderthal clan. Despite protests from her brother Creb and others, Iza takes Ayla into their clan. It's sort of a big deal for them, as Ayla is clearly one of the "others," meaning a modern human. This spells trouble at times, as Ayla's seemingly superior intellect tends to antagonize some members of the clan. Worrying that Ayla will struggle to find a mate, Iza trains Ayla in her healing ways.    

By today's standards, the costumes and makeup almost look a bit silly. But for almost forty years ago, it's not bad, in fact having earned an Oscar nom for makeup. It has to be said that this film did very poorly with critics and the box office. It's always perplexed me a bit, even as I watch the film again as an adult. There's a quote on Wikipedia taken from The Encyclopedia of Fantasy that reads: 

It is hard to see why TCOTCB has drawn such critical contempt, unless for its tacit feminism: although the narration is overexpository and the equation of mental versatility with leggy blonde Cro-Magnons, as opposed to shabby Neanderthals, is a cliché, the movie is beautifully shot, well scripted and finely acted.

I tend to agree with this sentiment. One thing I find interesting about the film's story is that the interactions among the clan, and even among the clan and "others" isn't all that different than how modern life is in regard to class and group identity. Recent studies suggest that Neanderthals were likely closer in intelligence to modern humans than is historically perceived or depicted. That long-held assumption is of course perpetuated for the most part in this film, with Ayla being better at math as a child, finding the clan a cave, and figuring out a way to survive after giving birth all alone in harsh conditions. So while the comparisons between the two groups may not actually be accurate, the relationships Ayla develops are no different than any adoptive mother and daughter or sister would be nowadays. 

One has to admit, playing a Neanderthal would be unlike any character Meryl has come close to playing. Iza is a complex woman in her own right. And even for a character existing 30,00 years ago, having her own "profession," she's a person of importance with some independence in her community, which carries its own sort of feminist sentiment which I feel Meryl would've appreciated. There's of course the language (made up of course) that is a combination of signs and verbal communication, which I always enjoy watching Meryl tackle. 

It's difficult not to draw comparisons to this film with one released five years earlier, Quest for Fire. Both attempt to tackle the tricky task of depicting a prehistoric culture of our early ancestors. While Quest was far-better reviewed and did better financially, it's not without its criticisms. One being that historically it's absurd that there would be multiple species of early human of varying degrees of evolutionary advancement all living within close proximity of each other at the exact same time. But the premise works greatly in making us ponder the world at a time like that. While I concede that Quest is the better film, this inability to avoid wanting to examine our origins was something I experienced in watching both films. I would've loved to see The Clan of the Cave Bear directed with a vision just as clear and with execution just as consistent as the former. Still, I maintain that it's worth a watch. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Eleven years of Word on the Streep!

This is a day late, but I didn't want to forget to commemorate the yearly anniversary of this blog! It's hard to believe we're a year into the second decade of weekly postings about Meryl. Sometimes I surprise even myself with how much I come up with to actually write about her. Her work continues to be a wonderful well of fascination and enjoyment. Despite this being a bit of a "quiet" spell for her (let's not get our panties in a bind...we all know she takes breaks), I've found it rewarding to have the opportunity to speculate on what could've been with my latest iteration of a recasting project. We have The Extrapolations to look forward to in a few months, and you know that big project is somewhere around the corner just waiting to be announced. 

Thanks to any and all readers and commenters. It's been a joy interacting with you on this forum. I hope you're enjoying the content and look forward to your continued participation.


Monday, August 8, 2022

Recasting 1985 (supporting): "Clue"

If someone were to ask me my top five all-time favorite movies, I'd be hard pressed to leave out 1985's dark comedy, Clue. I recorded it from a fuzzy HBO connection sometime in the late 80s, and it was a film that for whatever reason I found myself watching over and over again. My family owned the Parker Brothers board game off of which the film is based, so I was familiar with the characters before seeing it. Looking back, I'm confident I was drawn to the campy, often bitchy, dialogue that seemed to move a mile a minute. For these reasons, I'm choosing to insert Meryl into the film in the role originated by Lesley Ann Warren, Miss Scarlet. 

I feel the need to mention that it's easy for me to choose films in these recasting series that are somehow special to me personally. And I do it fairly often. But it's not an absolute rule when selecting roles. Spoiler alert, ensemble films that I adore like Steel Magnolias, Sense and Sensibility and Gosford Park are movies that I'd love to imagine Sreep participating in (and individually considered as well). But they just don't have roles that really stood out as either compelling or realistic for Meryl for when they would've been made. So, they will remain untouched by my thieving brain. Clue, on the other hand, is a picture along this same line of familiarity and high personal regard where I also find a role for which I think it's fitting to insert Meryl. 

As mentioned, the story is based on the board game that became popular in the 80s, with most of the original characters thrown together in a murder mystery that takes place over the course of one night. It's set in 1954 New England, where the characters (all given pseudonyms for the evenings to protect their identities) are brought together for a dinner party under the guise that the person blackmailing them will be revealed. "Miss Scarlet" is a sassy D.C. madam who's paying blackmail to avoid her modern-day brothel from being exposed. I wasn't able to find any full scenes with just Miss Scarlet, but there's a great mix of several clips of Warren that shows off the character well throughout the movie. 

Theaters showed one of three different endings to the movie. I've only seen it from TV, where they showed all three "possible" endings. The first of them shows Scarlet as the murderer of all the unexpected guests (informants), effectively eliminating the people who could bring evidence against her as the true blackmailer. The film is so silly at times, but I so often found it a total riot when the screenplay would showcase the characters as trying to be so demure and serious, only to turn out to be rather goofy...all while people are being killed right and left in their presence. This clip, for example, is one of my favorite moments in the history of cinema. It's so ridiculous and funny that these folks would break into song to pacify a murderer who's about to get away scott-free. And with three-part harmony and a descant from the great Madeline Kahn to boot!

As unlikely as it may seem that Meryl would've ever done this movie, part of the fun of the supporting version of this recasting project is imagining scenarios where she might have sneaked in smaller projects that wouldn't have taken up a ton of her time. Filming only took one month in Los Angeles, for example. More interesting to consider, perhaps, is that Carrie Fisher was originally cast to portray Miss Scarlet,. She dropped out shortly before shooting began to enter rehab. I can find no evidence to suggest that she and Meryl were close friends prior to production of 1990's Postcards from the Edge (based on the semi-autobiographical novel Fisher drafted after her stint in rehab). But I've seen several photos of Fisher and Postcards director Mike Nichols chumming around together well prior to 1980. Nichols of course also directed Streep in 1983's Silkwood. It's not wild to imagine Fisher having some at least oblique connection to Streep. Perhaps even Nichols being able to suggest her as a replacement when Fisher had to drop out. That's a bit far fetched, I suppose, but stranger things have of course happened, and Streep's name would've been a nice boon to the marketing department for the film. 

Clue was by no means a critical darling, and it made disappointing returns at the box office. But it's a film that has maintained a strong cult following to this day. While director Jonathan Lynn took a bit of a career beating after the film's release, he bounced back with 1992's My Cousin Vinny, and names Clue as the film for which he continues to receive the most fan mail. It's aged success has left a lot of people wondering "why?" I found this quote from Michael McKean, who plays closeted State Department employee, Mr. Green. I think it sums up pretty well why a lot of folks, who, like me, discovered this oddball flick in their prepubescent years, were so quickly and thoroughly hooked:

"I have a theory. It's a movie that is about adult stuff, but you don't need a lot of hands-on experience to know what they're talking about. It's about murder and sex and blackmail, but you don't really get your hands dirty because it's so silly. It's almost like the characters in it were based on characters in a game. Oh, wait a minute!"

Monday, August 1, 2022

Scott Z. Burns talks "Extrapolations"

Thanks again to Jamie Michael Rogers, who regularly alerts me to updates on Meryl's upcoming project for Apple TV+, Extrapolations, we have a bit of new info from writer/director Scott Z. Burns. 

A quicker link to the interview with The Hollywood Reported can be found here. Burns describes how Meryl was the first person he approached for the anthology series. Her passion for the topic and project, he explains, was instrumental in getting other cast members to join. Burns goes on to say that some characters have "ongoing storylines," while others are only in one episode. Unfortunately, he doesn't go into any detail as to which characters or actors fall into which categories. Meryl continues to be one of the few cast members who doesn't have a character name listed on IMDb. I had posted a Twitter clip some time ago in which Sienna Miller describes in an interview that Meryl will be playing her mother, as well as one additional part. Whether or not that gives us any inkling into Meryl having more than one episode in the ten-episode series remains to be seen. I certainly hope we get more of her than a single episode, but my hopes aren't super high. Regardless, the series sounds really interesting and timely, and is scheduled to premiere on the streaming service sometime this fall.