Monday, January 30, 2023

Recasting 2006 (supporting): "Children of Men"

In keeping with my pattern in previous selections for this project, I'm interested in imagining Meryl in different parts not always just for the role themselves, but for with whom she'd get to work. I'm ashamed to admit that before I started writing this blog, I paid rather little attention to directors. It started to be something more on my radar when more closely analyzing Meryl's current and future projects. 2013 was a big year, as I had been looking VERY much forward to seeing how things would turn out with August: Osage County. That same year, I was introduced to Alfonso Cuarón's work, after being stunned in the theater by Gravity. As often happens, I realized this was more a reintroduction, having simply not realized I'd seen movies of his earlier. Of course I'd seen all the Harry Potter movies up to that point (Cuarón directed Prisoner of Azkaban), and I think I'd seen Y tu mamá también in college. I've since seen Roma, and while it's not a movie I'll watch over and over, I can absolutely appreciate its beauty and technical expertise. 

My dear husband was the first to introduce me to Cuarón's exquisite 2006 dystopian action film, Children of Men. I've watched it a handful of times in the past several years, and I identified it one I thought would work well in this recasting project. I love the movie, I love the themes and acting, and I love that it was critically acclaimed. Up until last week, when I watched it again to refresh my memory on it, I had imagined Meryl in the small role portrayed by Julianne Moore, the leader of a militant group in 2027 London. I expected to do some explaining on how I'd imagine Moore's character's former husband (portrayed by Clive Owen) to be played by someone closer to Meryl's age, and maybe pushing the year the movie takes place further out another five years. But as I was watching, a different, perhaps more interesting role that was perfectly age-suited and larger, was staring me right in the face. 

A bit of plot background. As mentioned, the film takes place in 2027 London, where the world is in chaos after humans have been unable to reproduce for nearly twenty years. War and famine are rampant, and immigrants are flooding into the U.K, one of the few remaining "stable" democracies. Owen's character, Theo, is tasked by his former wife, Julian (Moore) to usher the first pregnant woman in nearly two decades to a safe scientific base in the Azores. In an eerie and perhaps inevitable bit of foreshadowing, Theo and Julian's young son had died nineteen years prior during a flu pandemic. The pregnancy of course puts the young mother-to-be, Kee (Clare-Hope Ahitey), an asylum seeker from Africa, in danger. Individuals on both sides of the refugee debate have their views on what should be done to or with her, and Julian's militant group wants to ensure her safe escape. 

The character for which I'd like to insert Meryl is midwife, Miriam (originally portrayed by Pam Ferris). She's a member of Julian's immigrants-rights group who is chosen to accompany Kee on her journey. On the surface, she may seem to fade a bit in the background as not much more than a bit part. But as alluded to above, she's in a rather large portion of the film, and I'd argue has her own arc, as well as taking part in a lot of the intense "chase" that ensues when opposing forces seek to harm or save Kee. Although Miriam is terrified for her life, not necessarily expecting to be thrust into this dangerous position, she's no shrinking violet. She's an opinionated devotee of the militant group (the "Fishes"), and has no trouble speaking up about what she thinks is the best course of action in the aftermath of Julian's assassination. 

But perhaps the most poignant scene for this character is when she shares with Theo her experience as a midwife, when it was starting to become apparent that women were miscarrying and not future pregnancies were on their schedules. Starting at 1:03.

I've read that Julianne Moore was originally set to play the pregnant woman, but ended up taking the role of Julian instead. Being that her part isn't very big, it suggests to me that it was a project that she believed in, and wanted to be part of it however she could. I wonder if the role of Miriam would've or could've been enough of a way in for an actor of more prominent standing, like Meryl perhaps. Had she, too, been a big believer in the script (had it come across her table) and the director, maybe she would've been like, "sign me up!" There's also a brief scene (Miriam's last) where she has to fake a religious hallucination to try to distract guards from the fact that Kee's water has actually just broken on a bus. Coupling that with the scene above (and all the high-octane reactions during the escape/chase scenes), and I think we have a character, the quality of which surpasses plenty of those many other actors have earned nominations for. Pam Ferris didn't stand a chance, being much less well known than someone like Moore, for example. 

As mentioned, the film was extremely popular with critics, holding a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and score of 84 on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim." The film earned Oscar nominations for Screenplay, Editing and Cinematography. It's a shame the actors didn't get a bit more love. Clive Owen managed a Saturn nomination. Not even Michael Cane's John Lennon-esque performance as Theo's pot-growing, cartoonist friend/mentor could score any awards traction. Regardless, it's a special film, and it would've been exciting to see Meryl try her hand among the cast--with our without the Welsh accent! 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Recasting 2005 (supporting): "Alexander"

There's probably not a single person in the world who would've guessed that I'd choose Oliver Stone's movie about Alexander the Great for my 2005 selection in this project. One simple reason might be that the movie was actually released in 2004. The second is that there isn't necessarily an obvious role that one would think Meryl was be suitable for. A third reason could be that the movie was kind of a stinker. But I have my reasons, which I'll happily explain now. 

I've always thought it would be great to see Meryl in a big, sweeping epic along the lines of Gladiator. I'm a history buff, and when special effects became good enough for us to be at least marginally convinced that certain scenes could pass for the real thing, I enjoyed spending the time watching those types of movies. Troy comes to mind as well. Alexander came with such high expectations. A big-time director, star actors, a huge budget, an obvious appetite from audiences. But it doesn't always work. We'll get to the specifics on the original film's quality in a bit, but something grabbed my memory of this film during quarantine, and I ended up realizing that there may have been a role that would've suited Meryl nicely. 

Colin Farrell portrays Alexander "the Great" of Macedon, who essentially conquered most of the known world in the fourth century BCE. His mother's name was Olympius, a Greek princess who married Phillip of Macedon, who became king of Macedonia when Alexander was three. One of the strangest bits of casting in this movie is Angelina Jolie as Queen Olympius. She is less than one year older than Farrell. I get that Olympius was supposed to seem alluring and like a snake-charmer, and that she claimed that Alexander's real father was Zeus himself. I also realize that Oliver Stone probably wanted to play up a sort of sexual tension between mother and son in the movie. But it all just seemed weird. So did Jolie's choice of a vaguely Eastern European accent, the only of its kind if a movie of about a thousand people who mostly sound like they're from somewhere in the British Isles. 

I would've LOVED to see Meryl in this type of role at some point. Let's remember that she came very close to working with Oliver Stone in the late 80s on a film version of Evita. My guess is that the two of them already had at least some level of a relationship. It's not outrageous to wonder whether or now she could've been considered for the role of a mother who's son (for most of the movie at least) is in his twenties and thirties. For the record, Meryl would've been 53 at the time this movie was filmed starting in early 2003. We know she can believably play people ten years younger, plus movie magic and makeup/hair would've helped to make it very believable that she was Colin Farrell's mother. Much more than Jolie, anyway. Imagine Meryl all done up in big hair with sun-kissed skin and a form-fitting Greek tunic. Fierce. 

There's also the role itself. It's an interesting character, beyond the sort of controlling mother working behind the scenes as a bit of a puppet master to ensure her progeny's military or dynastic success. It reminds me of Meryl's role of Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate. Obviously, the setting and the stakes are somewhat different, but there are similarities in regard to the machinations undertaken to gain or maintain power. I love that sort of intrigue, a la The Lion in Winter and Game of Thrones. 

Talk about your Oedipus complex. This would've been fun to watch Meryl negotiate. And OMG the spitting in the face is savage.  

Let's talk for a second about how bad of a film the original cut is. A measly 16% on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 39. Yikes. It was also a box office bomb. The storylines are jumbled, the voiceovers from Anthony Hopkins's Ptolemy are tedious, and the characters distant. But there's a caveat. Stone was not satisfied with his finished product, and he ended up doing a director's cut for the DVD release on 2005 (no big deal there, a lot do). But he then went back two years later and did a "final unrated cut." Finally, the "ultimate cut" was released ten years after the film's initial theatrical release. And it's this version for which I would've intended to reinsert Meryl as Olympius. 

Knowing that filming started in early 2003 and was released in theaters a year and half later, I wonder if Stone could've worked out his ultimate cut had they pushed the release back another year, to 2005 (thus my year selection for this project). Then maybe it would've actually done well with both critics and in theaters. I rewatched the film recently (the ultimate cut), and I thought it was very entertaining, and went by pretty fast, considering it was three and a half hours. There's a really interesting article from Peter Sobczynski for on this final version from Stone, with a general consensus I'm finding to be that this last version is by far a superior film, and even a good film on its own. Sobczynski writes at one point:

And yet, the film, especially in its current version, has plenty of good things going for it—exciting battle sequences, a thought-provoking approach that tries to look at Alexander through ancient and contemporary eyes and a memorable supporting turn from Angelina Jolie. (Some have accused her of going over-the-top, but when you're playing a snake-obsessed queen with an unnatural fondness for a son you believe was fathered by Zeus himself, you don't want to undersell the part.) At its best moments, such as Alexander's speech before the Battle of Gaugamela and his heroic horseback charge against an elephant during the final fight in India, the movie packs the kind of grandly glorious punch that few filmmakers would dare to attempt, and that even fewer could successfully pull off.

I agree. Had this been the version that got released in theaters, I think we'd be looking back at Alexander as not a forgettable and overblown costume/war drama, but rather a stunning depiction of ancient Babylon, fit with gripping battle scenes and characters for whom we actually give a shit. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

"Extrapolations" to premiere on March 17

What a pair of days! Just yesterday we learn that Meryl will be starring in the third season of Hulu's comedy Only Murders in the Building, and today Apple TV+ has (finally) revealed that their anthology series Extrapolations will premiere on March 17. 

I'm not sure if the fact that they're using Meryl in the announcement is a sign that she'll indeed have more than a simple cameo, but I sure as hell hope so. The tagline of this series sounds awesome, and the cast is absolutely ridiculous. Now all we need is a trailer, which I expect is probably not too far off. The first three episodes will be released at the same time, with the remaining five each Friday through April 21. 


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Streep cast in season 3 of "Only Murders in the Building"

Wow, some project news. Multiple sources are reporting that Meryl has been cast in season 3 of Hulu's original comedy series, Only Murders in the Building. The news was revealed by co-star Selena Gomez on her Instagram account. 

Quick blurb from Variety: 

The comedy-drama series follows Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), neighbors at an Upper West Side building called the Arconia, who bond over a love of true crime podcasts and end up starting their own as mysterious murders happen around them.

The series has garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards recognition since its first season in 2021. It also became Hulu's most-watched comedy series ever. There's no info yet on just who Meryl is going to portray. This show has been something I've been on the verge of starting in recent months. I just don't tend to start actual series much anymore, more limited series. But now I'm definitely going to start it. Glad to see that Meryl is out there doing some new work, and I'd expect that we'll see the next season sometime this summer. I certainly wouldn't mind also getting some news of a film project with a lead role on her schedule in the second half of the year, perhaps. But this news is great, and it'll probably broaden her fan base even greater, considering Selena Gomez has 371 million followers on Instagram. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Recasting 2004 (supporting): "Sideways"

Right out of the gate, many people might think that Virginia Madsen's role in Alexander Payne's 2004 film Sideways would've been too young for Meryl. It's no secret that this is the type of thing that is often on my mind when picturing Meryl's characters, whether in my recasting projects, or in her potential future screen portrayals. It's possible I feel the need to defend the choice in this week's film selection, following roles that were originally portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer and Patricia Clarkson, who are nine and ten years younger than Meryl, respectively. Madsen is a full twelve years younger, but I argue that the film would've worked out just as well had Meryl been cast opposite Paul Giamatti. 

I should point out that Payne has remarked how he specifically didn't want big stars in the film. Apparently George Clooney had campaigned for the role of Jack (portrayed by Thomas Haden Church), but was turned down for this "star" reason. But let's just pretend that Payne was a fan of Streep's. I honestly get reminded of Adaptation when I watch Sideways. The two have a similar color pallette and lighting scheme (at least in my memory). Maybe it was just the style around that time. Had Payne also been a fan of Adaptation (which was released in late 2002), maybe he would've reached out to Meryl to see if she'd been interested in appearing in his movie (which filmed a year later). We'd get to have the fun angle of having the age gap between the male-female love interests being one in which the woman was older for a change. Quick example, 1997's As Good as it Gets had an age gap of 25 years between Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Not only is the 18-year difference between Meryl and Giamatti a good deal smaller, I think they look much more similar in age than do Nicholson and Hunt. But OMG who cares?! Moving on.

I can remember loving this movie when I originally saw it in the theater. It follows a pair of former college buddies, Miles and Jack (Giamatti and Church), who embark on what's supposed to be a week-long last hurrah in wine country before Jack ties the knot. Miles is a depressed high school English teacher and wine snob who's struggling to get his novel published (I can relate to the last part). Jack is an actor and walking hard-on. Miles expects the week to consist of wine tastings in and around Santa Barbara (where I happened to spend some time this past fall, which made watching the movie again recently a fun coincidence). Jack just wants to get laid. They run into Maya (Madsen), a waitress at a restaurant that Miles frequents. Jack pushes Miles to connect with Maya, and the three of them, along with one of Maya's friends who works at a winery, Stephanie (Sandra Oh), end up spending an evening together. I adore the below scene with Madsen. The way she talks about wine is about as sexy as a woman can get for Miles.

We don't get a ton of background on Maya. We know she's divorced like Miles, and she's commuting from her home to a college to earn a master's degree in horticulture. There's an interesting bit of mystery to her. It's the kind of backstory I imagine being fun for an actor to sort of backfill with their interpretation. As Miles and Maya get closer, so do Jack and Stephanie. Only after Miles slips and mentions Jack's upcoming nuptials does Maya dump Miles in disgust. Things have a hopeful ending for poor Miles, however, as Maya reads the manuscript Miles had lent her and leaves a message on his machine as a sort of olive branch.

I think part of what has made this movie appealing as a choice for this project (aside from me just really liking it) is that I've come to much more greatly appreciate wine myself. My husband has a specialist certification in some California varietal I can't remember off the top of my head, so we've dabbled quite a bit over the past decade. On top of that, Sideways is downright one hell of a good movie, with a wonderful combination of humor and heartfelt intimacy. I certainly wasn't the only person to think so. The film has a whopping 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 94 on Metacritic. It was also a major box office success, earning $110 million off its $16m budget. Madsen, along with garnering nominations at the Golden Globes, SAGs and Academy Awards for Actress in a Supporting Role, was honored with wins from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics Association, Independent Spirit Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Not too shabby. 

P.S.--the next ten years of selections for this project might be a bit...well, let's just say, "unpredictable."


Monday, January 9, 2023

Recasting 2003 (supporting): "The Station Agent"

Directed by Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), The Station Agent was made just over twenty years ago on a budget of only half a million dollars. McCarthy had his three main actors in mind when writing the screenplay, so that along with the shoestring budget would've made it unlikely from the start that Meryl would've been involved. But I've read that while McCarthy was a friend of Peter Dinklage and a colleague of Bobby Cannavale, he did not know Patricia Clarkson at all. I don't know whether or not he and Meryl knew each other, but the lack of connection with Clarkson makes it easy enough in my mind to imagine that he could have just as easily been a fan of Streep's and offered her the part. Had she read it, she would've done well to accept. 

The film centers around Dinklage's character, Fin, a man with dwarfism who inherits property from his only friend. All fin wants is to live in solitude. But he's soon brought into contact with two neighbors: the overly talkative Joe, who's temporarily running his ill father's hot dog trailer, and Olivia, a soon-to-be divorced artist, grieving the loss of her young son. I think the crux of this movie and part of what makes it so refreshingly satisfying can be summed up in a portion of the late Roger Ebert's review, in which he states,
It is a great relief . . . that The Station Agent is not one of those movies in which the problem is that the characters have not slept with each other and the solution is that they do. It's more about the enormous unrealized fears and angers that throb beneath the surfaces of their lives.

What Ebert says is so true. We just get to see these folks work themselves out. On their own, with each other, through each other. There are some rough patches for them, as is to be expected in life. But it offers some wonderful acting moments along the way. 

Fin is so heartbreaking here. He keeps everything so close to his chest, and here he's started to share some modicum of closeness with someone, only she's the one who's pushing him away. The very thing he was hoping to protect himself from happens here. And as tough as it is to experience what Olivia is going through, Fin's reaction is what packs the greatest punch. 

Were it not for Clarkson's Academy Award-nominated performance in Pieces of April that same year, she may well have secured more recognition with this film. Despite the two films competing for awards, Clarkson was honored by several critics groups for this supporting performance (Boston, Florida, Kansas City, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics). She also landed a SAG nom in the leading category (it's a vaguely borderline performance). I suppose many would've considered Pieces of April the likelier choice for this year. Truth be told, I've never seen it. But I'm such a fan of The Station Agent's quiet yet powerful presence, that it was an easy choice for me. It also would've been such a great opportunity for Meryl to work in a wonderful ensemble with these actors (Michelle Williams also does a lovely job as the town librarian). 

The film was highly praised by critics. It holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 81 on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim." In addition to the aforementioned awards for Clarkson, McCarthy won the BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay, and Dinklage scored a SAG nom for Best Actor in a Leading Role. It's a darling little movie that for having some heavy moments, is easy to watch again and again. 

Monday, January 2, 2023

Recasting 2002 (supporting): "White Oleander"

It's been documented that Barbra Streisand was offered the chance to star in and direct White Oleander, the 2002 film adapted from Janet Fitch's novel of the same name. It was this tidbit that helped convince me that the part of Ingrid, originally portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer, could totally have been played by Meryl. I'm always aware of age when imagining recasting these films. Pfeiffer is nine years younger than Meryl, while Streisand is seven years older than her. If the powers that be thought Barbra would work fine in the part of the cold, striking, murderess mother in the pic, I'm sure Meryl would've sufficed as well. Peter Kosminsky eventually took the helm as director, and the rest is history.

Ingrid is a self-absorbed, somewhat hippie-like artist who's as cynical about the world as they come. She's sent to life in prison after she kills her cheating lover by poisoning him with the flower Oleander. The movie is shown through the experience of Ingrid's teenage daughter, Astrid (Alison Lohman), who's bounced around to different foster homes, enduring at times awful and dangerous situations. A good portion of Ingrid's scenes are when Astrid comes to visit her in prison. I personally can think of very few worse hells than serving a long prison sentence in a high-security facility. Ingrid's a tough bird though, and despite a bad bruise on her face, she hasn't seemed to lose much of her pluck when we see her meet with Astrid for the first time. 

I love how much of a bitch she is. I've tried to picture Meryl in any other role she's done where she played someone as calculating and cold as Ingrid. Maybe Mary Louise in Big Little Lies, but that's more the sweet on the surface but crazy granny type, versus a femme fatale who's smarter than everyone, knows it, and has little issue making those others aware of it. It's also difficult for me to identify any other character that would be less sympathetic than Ingrid. 

Her penultimate scene is a great opportunity for any actress to show their chops. At the same time, you kind of want to just give Ingrid the finger.  

What's enticing about imagining Meryl in a scene like the above is that as unlikable as Ingrid may be here, Meryl is superb at making people empathize with her characters, regardless of how remote they may seem from us. 

Robin Wright and Renée Zellweger both have great turns as two of Astrid's foster parents. Those two along with Pfeiffer and Lohman made for a memorable and very Scandinavian-looking movie poster. 

Pfeiffer snagged a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Actress in a Supporting Role, and won with both the Kansas City and San Diego film critics bodies. The film holds a pretty decent score of 71% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 61 on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews." While many thought the screenplay left a bit to be desired, the performances of the four main ladies were almost universally praised.