Monday, March 27, 2023

Recasting 2014 (supporting): "Snowpiercer"

Keeping with my little streak in this project of directors being a big draw, I've chosen Bong Joon-ho's 2013 (bumped to 2014 for my purposes) post-apocalyptic climate film, Snowpiercer. Bong is perhaps better known for his 2019 film, Parasite, which won him the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture. Snowpiercer follows the last survivors on Earth after an attempt to halt the effects of global warming with the use of stratospheric aerosols goes disastrously wrong. The survivors are segregated aboard a self-sustaining train called the Snowpiercer, as it traverses the planet that is now basically all covered in ice. 

The character for which I've chosen to recast Meryl is Minister Mason, portrayed by Tilda Swinton. She is sort of the right-hand man of the designer of the train (played by Ed Harris). Mason works to maintain the oppressed "tail end" of the train, keeping them living and working in relative squalor, while folks near the inaccessible "front end" live in the lap of luxury. Chris Evans is the main character Curtis, who leads a revolt against Mason and her guards, when he's advised by a wise elder, Gilliam (John Hurt), that the guards' guns no longer carry ammunition. Putting up such a fight comes at great risk, as anyone who ever dares to step out of line is swiftly and severely punished. 

Swinton has been quoted with some very specific and interesting thoughts on her approach to the look and characterization of Minister Mason:

Mason is a pretty monstrous construct so we felt we were dealing with extremes, but the truth was that we didn't have to go that far. Look at Hitler with his dyed black hair and Gaddafi with handmade medals stuck on his jacket.
And according to an article originally from Hitfix, "Swinton prepared for the role by studying clowning politicians throughout history, and Mason is, in Swinton's words, 'a complete smash cut of all the monstrous, maniacal, political clowns.' Swinton added that the character is a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler, and Silvio Berlusconi."

This thinking reminds me so much of how we've heard Meryl talk about how the look of a person or character tells us so much about them, and very quickly. Of course the acting needs to follow, but I think she gets a bit of a bad rap for the "external" aspects of characterization, as if that's the only or largest aspect of her characters. It's not. But it's important, and Meryl recognizes that probably as well as--if not better--than anyone. I'm not sure we would've seen her do the Yorkshire accent like Swinton did, but perhaps her own iteration of what she felt was posh or authoritarian. And I think it's a different enough character than her take on President Orlean in Adam McKay's recent allegorical climate change film, Don't Look Up, to warrant this choice. 

In the above scene, we get a great understanding of what I think is the crux of the struggle in the movie. The oppression of many by the rich and powerful few. That's certainly not a new concept, nor is one of climate change. But putting the two together in a stylized and futuristic setting makes for a very interesting premise for storytelling. I could totally see Meryl being interested in something like this. 

Snowpiercer was a box-office hit and was widely praised by critics, citing its fresh take on a human (near) extinction story and/or action thriller. While it wasn't nominated in any of the major televised award shows, many critics circles singled out the film and its screenplay and directing. Swinton was also often recognized, earning nominations for Supporting Actress from over a dozen of these organizations. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Recasting 2013 (supporting): "Top of the Lake"

This is the second selection in a row (of three after I post next week's selection) that the main driver in my interest in the project is the director. I realize that I chose Jane Campion's 1993 film The Piano for my lead recasting project, but her 2013 limited series, Top of the Lake seems a good fit as well, for a handful of reasons. 

I should note that Campion did not direct every episode of this seven-part series. Garth Davis (Lion, Mary Magdalene) directed an episode on his own, and a few were jointly directed between the two. The first season was a crime drama that takes place in New Zealand (there ended up being a second season that takes place around the same area but with a different cast and different story). Elizabeth Moss stars as Robin Griffin, a detective trying to find a missing and pregnant 12 year-old girl lost in the forest. The person she suspects is the girl's own father, Matt Mitcham (portrayed by Peter Mullan), who we end up learning is actually Robin's father as well, making the young girl, Tui, her half-sister. Drama!

The role I'd recast Meryl in was portrayed by the same person, Holly Hunter, whom I recast in the Piano. In Top of the Lake, Hunter plays a Swiss sort of spiritual guru named GJ, who arrives on Mitcham's land (which pisses him off) with a troupe of troubled women who hope to get a fresh start on their lives. I can't say this for sure, but I feel like one of the first things that drew me to the character of GJ was how much her styling reminded me of Meryl's character in The Giver (same year):

Both are kind of considered wise elders, but Hunter had the more interesting character in a MUCH better production. 

Hunter talks a bit more about the character in a separate clip of this interview. It's interesting how she describes GJ as "an enigma, someone considered a guru who has a following and doesn't want a following." I can totally envision Meryl being attracted to a character like that, having to work out and convey that inner dichotomy or contradiction. I've said it before and I'll say it again that Meryl likes things/concepts that are difficult. This character would certainly have offered that. It's quite natural to assume that she never got anywhere near playing it, considering Hunter and Campion's history with The Piano. But hey, that's why I do imagine her different roles as part of this project! I do wonder why Hunter, playing somebody from Switzerland, mostly sounds like herself. I bet Meryl would've adopted some level of a Swiss-German or Swiss-French accent for the part. 

Top of the Lake was a massive hit with critics, scoring a whopping 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and 87 on Metacritic. It was nominated for five Emmy Awards: Best Miniseries, Director(s), Screenplay, Lead Actress for Moss, and Supporting Actor for Mullan. All well-deserved.  

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Streep replaced in "Places, Please"?

There are rumblings on Awards Worthy today that suggest Places, Please is back on track and in pre-production. I looked on IMDb and while the film's status was indeed changed to "pre-production" on March 13, and Atlanta has been listed as a filming site, Meryl's name is no longer listed as attached. 

There is also this link to screenwriter Elisabeth Seldes Annacone's bio page on the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television. In the second paragraph there is a line that reads: "Seldes Annacone has also written a number of screenplays. Her most recent, Places, Please, is slated to begin filming in January 2023 with Glenn Close and Kathy Bates." That's some pretty specific info that seems unlikely to be incorrect (except for maybe the part that filming started in January). 

I'm surprised I'm as bummed about this news (if it's true) as I am. I'd pretty much given up on the possibility of this movie happening, as nothing has been mentioned about it since its announcement just over two years ago now. But Meryl hasn't had a lead role onscreen for what seems like forever at this point, and there's no definitive news about anything else coming along. The Tarantino film seems tenuous at best (still holding out hope), and Extrapolations was a bit part. Even Murders in the Building, while sure to be fun and entertaining, is highly likely going to max out as a guest/supporting role in a single season for her. 

Imagine if we were getting news that Meryl was actually filming Places, Please this spring and then The Movie Critic (or whatever it'll be called). The first could be complete for release this year, the other next year. And OMG if she got to star alongside Kathy Bates?! How wonderful that'd be! I'm assuming Close will portray Lillian Hall. Good for her, regardless. If the role is as strong as I was hoping, maybe it'll put Glenn in the running for her much overdue Oscar. Still, I wish wholeheartedly that it were still Meryl in the part. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Review of "Extrapolations" (2023)

Scott Z. Burns's anthology series Extrapolations premiered on Apple TV+ Friday night with its first three (of eight) episodes. The limited series depicts the potential effects of climate change over the next 15-25 years. I'll say up front that this post is not really going to be a full-on review of the production, as there are several more episodes to come in the weeks ahead, and it seems likely that Meryl's participation was encapsulated in episode two. 

For any of us wondering how large her part would be, the suspicions of it being minor seem to have come to fruition with the show's premiere. Not a huge deal, as the show's theme and interconnected plot are sort of meant to be the stars here. Meryl plays Eve Shearer, the mother of Sienna Miller's character, Rebecca Shearer. Rebecca is a scientist studying the last-known humpback whale. They've developed technology that has decoded the humpback's underwater communication, and Rebecca has assigned her late mother's voice as the one to translate the humpback's sounds. This is what everyone online is talking about when they say Meryl is "playing a whale." Meryl is not playing a whale. Her voice is a computerized representation of a whale's thoughts.

Eve has passed away from liver cancer by the time the bulk of Rebecca's story is played out. We get to see a couple of brief scenes from Meryl. One where she's recording herself reading The Little Prince for her grandson, the other when she's close to the end and trying to explain to her daughter her decision to be less than one hundred percent honest about the severity of her condition. Shout out to eva on Twitter for having the only clip I can find on the internet of the scene:

It's hard not to think about Kate Gulden from One True Thing talking to her daughter Ellen (Renee Zellwegger) as she faces her own mortality. Nothing particularly groundbreaking or super new from Meryl here. But it's beautifully acted and very touching nonetheless.  

I have to say I can sort of understand the lackluster response from critics thus far. While I'm glad the story is being told, and the acting and cast are both fantastic, the show is a bit of a slog. There's a disjointedness about it, even for a show that's intended to showcase a large number of character in the throes of their own individual experiences of how climate change has negatively affected them and their loved ones. It's by no means awful, but if it weren't for Mery's participation and the urgent light it attempts to shine on the climate crisis, I'm not sure I'd want to watch much more of it. The production value looks really expensive, and I like the diverse cast as well as the international scope of the story. Sad thing is, it doesn't seem like much of a story versus a sobering look into what we may be facing in our own lifetimes if drastic action isn't taken on a very large scale. 

Final verdict for me is that it's an important story and production, but a bit too tedious and convoluted for me to love it. It's obvious to me that Meryl joined this project more for the message than for the role, much like I suspect many in the cast also have. And more power to them if they believe in the project. As mentioned, I'm glad the production is out there, and I'll certainly be watching every episode.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Streep and Tarantino?

I wasn't planning on posting about this, but there's been so much chatter on the interwebs about director Quentin Tarantino's plans to announce his tenth and final film, supposedly titled The Movie Critic. Multiple sources have revealed that while details of the script are being kept secret, the film will be set in late 70s Los Angeles. Tarantino is apparently known to revere the late film critic Pauline Kael. We don't know whether or not the film will have anything to do with Kael, and if so, if it'll be an actual biopic or only be based on her. But we do know that a female lead will be cast. 

One wouldn't necessarily think of a Quentin Tarantino movie and immediately think of Meryl Streep. But this might not end up being a typical super-violent type of film we usually see from the director. I seem to remember Meryl mentioning that she's not a fan of the violence in Tarantino's films, so it would've been unlikely that she would've said yes to any of his previous movies, even if there had been a reasonable part for her to play and had been offered the role. But we do know from this 2012 article that Tarantino is a fan:

"I'd really love to work with Meryl Streep. I'm a huge, huge Meryl Streep fan, and I actually think we'd get along like a house on fire, even though I don't really know her."

So is it that out of the realm of possibility? While I think it's a long shot, there may be a chance. Tarantino has been quoted in recent years that his final film is likely going to be something much different and/or unexpected compared to his previous productions. How outside-of-the box and cool would it be to see someone like Streep leading a movie form the director of such pop culture hits as Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill films (which Tarantino wanted to release as a single film) and the more recent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? And it would be an amazing mini-comeback when we've seen so little of Meryl on the big screen in the last five years. It could mark the start of a new era to her career, which, if the film performed well, could open the door to greenlighting projects that would perhaps otherwise not get the go-ahead (see the years following 2006's The Devil Wears Prada). 

An added interesting element to this story is that Pauline Kael was known to not be a particularly big fan of Meryl's work. An oft-quoted snippet from 1982 reads:

"Something about her puzzles me: after I’ve seen her in a movie, I can’t visualize her from the neck down. . . . Her movie heroines don’t seem to be full characters, and there are no incidental joys to be had from watching her. It could be that in her zeal to be an honest actress she allows nothing to escape her conception of a performance.”

Streep of course had many performances after 1982, and not everything Kael wrote about her was extremely negative. But mostly. The one comment Meryl ever publicly made about the heaps of non-praise was from a 2008 interview:

“I’m incapable of not thinking about what Pauline wrote. And you know what I think? That Pauline was a poor Jewish girl who was at Berkeley with all these rich Pasadena WASPs with long blond hair, and the heartlessness of them got her.”

This has all got the makings of a fascinating character study in a movie with potential for visibility that could skyrocket Meryl back into the cinematic stratosphere. Kael would've turned 60 in 1979, but Meryl would have no problem portraying someone in their early 60s in the 1970s (especially one who smoked for many years). And if we care at all about looking the part, what more could a director possibly ask for? 

The Movie Critic is set to film this fall. 


Monday, March 13, 2023

Sneak peek of Streep in "Only Murders in the Building"

Hulu shared a brief clip of the upcoming third season of Only Murders in the Building:


It's hard to tell the context of that scene, but knowing Paul Rudd's character died on stage in the last episode of season 2 (spoiler!), it looks like they might have all been rehearsing a scene and Meryl's character missed her line??  Regardless, she looks great. With this show and the debut of Apple TV+'s  Extrapolations later this week (which btw already has 5 reviews on Metacritic and is sitting at a mediocre 60), hopefully it marks a surge in Meryl participating in more projects than what we've seen in the last couple years. 

No word on exactly when later this year we'll see season 3 of Only Murders in the Building. 

Recasting 2012 (supporting): "Mildred Pierce"

I've hoped to see Meryl do a project with Todd Haynes for years. While I suppose it's possible that the opportunity may still come one day, I've looked back on some of Haynes's projects trying to identify one that I think could have realistically included Meryl. Neither of the lead roles in Far from Heaven or Carol would have worked, and as fun as I think it would've been to see her in Cate Blanchett's role in I'm Not There, she simply would've been too old. 

Which brings us to the 2011 HBO limited series, Mildred Pierce (which I'm obviously bumping back a year to 2012). This was sort of around the time that the tide started to really turn in regard to television being more widely accepted as a medium for the biggest screen stars of the day. The scripts were, and often remain, better. Especially for women. Based on the 1941 novel by James M. Cain, and perhaps more famously known for its film adaptation starring Joan Crawford in 1945, the story follows Mildred (Kate Winslet), a newly single mother during the Depression in California. Haynes's adaptation is apparently more faithful to the original novel (I've never read it). In the '45 film the prominent role of Lucy Gessler is eliminated completely--sort of combined with the role of Ida Corwin, Mildred's boss at the diner (the latter portrayed splendidly by Mare Winningham for this production). The HBO iteration brings Lucy back, and it's this character for which I'm imagining inserting Meryl. 

Portrayed by Melissa Leo (the second role of hers in three years I'm selecting), Lucy is Mildred's street-smart, somewhat wisecracking neighbor, who's got about as much deference for Prohibition as she does for men who leave their wives. She's a bit ahead of her time for a woman in the 1930s, and she offers support and encouragement to Mildred as she attempts to provide for herself and her two girls. I have tried in vain to find an extended clip of Leo's performance anywhere on the web. But I came upon this clip of director Todd Haynes breaking down the first of the five episodes in the limited series. In it, we get a little background on Lucy's role and her relationship to Mildred shortly after Mildred's husband leaves her. We get a few snippets of the character onscreen. Start at 1:55. 

I like the line from Lucy about Mildred's elder daughter, Veda, saying about Mildred taking a waitress job, which she considers frightfully beneath her, "Veda wouldn't do it herself but she's willing to let you do it, AND eat the cake." Lucy has identified what Mildred doesn't want to about her daughter: that she's a manipulative, cruel, and scheming snob. There are few characters in recent memory whom I dislike more than that of Veda Pierce in this HBO production. Portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood and Morgan Turner (young Veda), she is a soulless ingrate who selfishly ends up damaging everyone around her. It's a testament to both Wood and Turner's performances that they drew such a strong reaction. 

Mildred Pierce was well-received by critics, primarily for its acting. While some argued the series was too long or missed the opportunity to fully capture the full severity of the mother-daughter relationship when comparing it to the original film, it managed an 81% on Rotten Tomatoes. Overall it earned nine Emmy awards, with a staggering SIX of them in acting, including Leo for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. Leo was joined in her category by Wood and Winningham, while Guy Pearce and Brían F. O'Byrne earned Supporting Actor nods for portraying Mildred's second and first husbands, respectively. 

Mildred Pierce is a fantastic limited series with a character that I think Meryl would've enjoyed. There are plenty of roles smaller than this one that she's done over the years, likely because she believed in the material, the director, or the story's message. While not always critical or commercial successes, such films as Lions for Lambs, Rendition, Dark Matter, Evening, The Giver, and Suffragette come to mind. For the combination of the quality of the script, the director with home she'd get to work, and its exceptional cast, I suspect that there are far worse projects in which Meryl could've seen herself participating.  

Monday, March 6, 2023

Recasting 2011 (supporting): "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

For anyone familiar with this David Fincher film, they're probably wondering "what the hell part would Meryl play?" This is a similar scenario to my 1987 choice for this project, where fans of Empire of the Sun might have scratched their heads before reading the post. Like that one, however, I have my role and I have my reasons. 

First and foremost, I absolutely love the English-language film version of Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I've loved it from the first time I saw it during the same awards season in which Meryl won her third Oscar for The Iron Lady. Rooney Mara was up for the award in the same category. While the film's content is a bit raw and brutal at times, its overall feel and cinematography bring me back to it time and time again, especially during the cold, snowy months Minnesota is known for. 

Set in Stockholm in 2006, the film centers around Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who's tasked by an old rich businessman, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to solve the murder of his grandniece. It's this part of Harriet Vanger for which I'd recast Meryl. The apparent murder took place forty years prior to the film's contemporary story, and Rooney Mara's character, Lisbeth Salander, serves as the brilliant assistant to Blomkvist, after having compiled the background check on him for Vanger. 

One of the first questions in my mind when deciding whether or not Meryl would be age-appropriate for this role was the actual timing of the story. Considering that that actress who originally played the adult version of Harriet (Jolie Richardson) is sixteen years younger than Meryl, it might seem strange and inaccurate to cast someone that much older. But I'd argue that Richardson's casting is far more peculiar when one understands the timeline of the story. Harriet is meant to have disappeared in 1966 at the age of 16, which would mean she was born around 1950. The movie takes place in 2006, which would put Harriet at 56 years of age. Richardson would've been 45 at the time of filming. Meryl, 61. Meryl would've had zero problem convincingly portraying someone five years younger, so it actually would've been more authentic to have someone closer to her age. 

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this project, a handful of roles I selected might be considered glorified cameos. This is one of those instances. But the role is a more interesting one than most might consider. And had Meryl actually done Panic Room with David Fincher as I had proposed for my lead recasting project, it wouldn't have been too strange to picture her being tapped for a small role in a future film of his. 

The role of Harriet actually starts out as supposedly a different character, namely Harriet's cousin, Anita. But (spoiler), it ends up turning out that Harriet has been posing as Anita for many years to protect her own identity, after escaping the abuse of both her father and her brother. There could have been some fun challenges with this. Not only is there a role for the actor to play, but to some extent the character is having to act within the story herself. 

I have to add that the actor they cast to portray 16 year-old Harriet looks a fair bit more like Meryl than like Richardson:

I read an article a while back where David Fincher explained his deliberate intention of having his cast use European accents. It might seem a little weird when it's a hodgepodge of voices from different areas, but the overall effect of it simply feeling "European" was likely achieved. That said, I totally expect that Meryl would've chosen to do some variation of a Swedish accent, as did Mara and Plummer. Craig and Richardson just sounded English, which is fine. 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was well-received by critics, with an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 71 on Metacritic. The film's violence and overt scenes of sex and sexual trauma probably turned off a handful of both critics and audience members, but in general the movie was praised. In addition to Mara's nomination for Actress in a Leading Role, the film garnered Academy Award nominations in four other tech categories, winning for Best Film Editing. I think the movie holds up well to this day, as mentioned above I've returned to it on a regular basis, and I expect to continue to do so. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

SAG Foundation to open Meryl Streep Center for Performing Artists

For whatever reason, I feel less and less inclined these days to post about non-specifically work-related Meryl topics. But I found the articles from a couple days ago about SAG-AFTRA's plans to open a center in Meryl's honor to be a touching bit of news. 

The Meryl Streep Center will be the West Coast complement to the Robin Williams Center that the SAG-AFTRA Foundation opened in Midtown Manhattan in 2016. Like its New York counterpart, the Los Angeles facility will feature a on-camera and voiceover recording studios, tech labs, classroom spaces and other infrastructure designed to help performers hone their skills and develop their careers.

I expect that we'll have more and more of these types of honors as Meryl gets further into the last years of her career. While I hope the end is very far off, there are only so many more projects one can expect to see when someone is fortunate enough to reach their eighth decade of life. With the recent announcement of Meryl joining the cast of season 3 of Only Murders in the Building and with Extrapolations set to premiere in just over two weeks, I feel the glimmer of an active string of years potentially on the horizon.   

The Meryl Streep Center for Performing Artists is set to open its doors in early 2024 in Los Angeles.