Actress Meryl Streep turns 70

I STILL haven’t seen Ironweed (1987)

Meryl StreepThere’s a tease for Big Little Lies, the season two opener, that features Meryl Streep. It was so intriguing that I ALMOST wanted to sign up for HBO. Almost.

By my reckoning, I’ve mentioned Meryl Streep over 40 times in this blog. Often, it was in a review of a movie I had seen or note of an award she was nominated for. When I wrote that she received the Kennedy Center Honors, I listed all the films of hers I’d seen through 2009. She is the film performer whose body of work I’ve probably seen the most of, percentage-wise.
Subsequently, I’ve watched:

The Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009, though I didn’t see it until 2017
The Iron Lady, 2011, for which she won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Hope Springs, 2012
August: Osage County, 2013, nominated for Best Actress
Into the Woods, 2014, nominated for Best Supporting Actress
The Post, 2017, nominated for Best Actress
Mary Poppins Returns, 2018

I STILL haven’t seen Ironweed (1987), though it was both filmed partly in Albany and the story based in the city. I skipped Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018), though my wife and daughter viewed it and found it OK for what it was trying to achieve.

Somehow, I missed Streep’s Best Actress-nominated role in Florence Foster Jenkins (2016). Nor have I seen her Oscar-nominated role in The Deer Hunter (1978), which means I’ve caught 19 of her 21 nominated roles, and all three of her winning performances – Kramer vs. Kramer (1979 – supporting) and Sophie’s Choice (1982 – lead), as well as The Iron Lady.

Here are a couple interviews/”inspirational” pieces about the actress in Good Housekeeping and Parade.

I was at a graduation party this month, and someone was watching The Office, the US television sitcom, in the other room. Michael Scott (Steve Carell) had been viewing The Devil Wears Prada, bit by bit, on Netflix and was annoyingly boorish to his secretary Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer). Later, he apologized for his behavior; he didn’t know until the end that “Meryl Streep was the bad guy.”

She can be the villain, but she is almost never bad. Meryl Streep turns 70 on June 22.

U is for Uluru, dingoes and pop culture

The public couldn’t believe how casually the mother described the scenario, so, they assumed she was guilty.

Uluru or Ayers Rock is a national park in a central part of Australia, located in the Northern Territory. What does this have to do with this cartoon, which I saw on Facebook?

The graphic is called Trouble Brewing from The Far Side by Gary Larson. Someone theorized that it was inspired by an episode of the US TV show Seinfeld called The Stranded from season 3 (November 27, 1991), in which Jerry and Elaine are bored at a Long Island party that George invited them to. “Elaine confronts a woman because of her fur coat,” and in a mock Australian accent exclaims “Maybe the dingo ate your baby?”

In fact, Elaine was parodying Meryl Streep in the 1988 film A Cry in the Dark, in which she played a woman who claimed a dingo took her baby. You didn’t need to have seen the movie – though I did – just the trailer, to have heard the iconic dialogue.

Was Larson inspired by the movie clip, the TV show, or both? I don’t know when the cartoon was first published, though it had to be before January 1, 1995, when he retired. The cartoon then shows up in the 2005 desk calendar.

I’m fascinated how the phrase became a pop-culture joke, but more that people are unaware that it was based on a true story.

“August 17, 1980 was like any other hot and sticky Summer night in Australia. Lindy and Michael Chamberlain took their family camping in Uluru… Hours after setting up camp, [they] were having a barbecue with other campers when they heard cries coming from their tent. It was their 2-month old daughter, Azaria. When Lindy approached the tent, she saw a wild animal shaking its head violently and growling. The animal fled, and Lindy was shocked to learn Azaria was missing from the tent…

“Immediately, police were suspicious of Lindy. When the mother appeared on local news, she described her daughter’s apparent death in horrifying detail. Even more concerning, the public couldn’t believe how casually the mother described the scenario… So, they assumed she was guilty…

“It was another person’s disappearance that would lead to the truth behind Azaria’s death… The Chamberlains were released from prison, but the state didn’t confirm their version of events until 32 years later. The couple was rewarded $1.3 million for their wrongful imprisonment…

“It’s not far off from the influence media has had on cases in the U.S. From the Menendez Brothers to OJ Simpson, and even Casey Anthony, we’ve fed off real-life crimes like they were written for us to consume…”

Finally, an interesting take on The Far Side: “Much of what Larson endeavors to satirize is the communal understanding of one another by pitting two individuals against each other psychologically…”

Re: “Trouble Brewing”: “The reader can appreciate each perspective in the panel: the hunger and wily aspect of the dingo, and the benign unawareness of the toddlers. Each perspective lets us ponder what it must be like to be the Other in a given circumstance, especially the numerous strips featuring an anthropomorphic Judeo-Christian god creating the world, and other assorted creatures.”

For ABC Wednesday

MOVIE REVIEW – August: Osage County

I found something oddly compelling about the folks in August:Osage County.

august-osage-countyI was not sure I even wanted to see it. The reviews were decidedly mixed on August: Osage County. Worse, the campaign promoting the film changed from being a scene-chewing drama to a dark comedy, so I was suspicious. But then SamuraiFrog recommended it AND related to it. Also, it DID have a couple of Oscar-nominated actresses in it. So I went with a friend to the Spectrum in Albany, The Wife being out of town with The Daughter.

A negative reviewer complained that the movie was not as strong as the Tony-winning play – which I did not see – despite both being written by Tracy Letts; I did see some staginess, especially in particular snippets of dialogue occasionally. Others blamed John Wells’ direction.

Critic Richard Roeper called the movie: “A sometimes wickedly funny but ultimately sour, loud, draining tale of one of the most dysfunctional families in modern American drama.” Reviewer Anthony Morris said: “Instead of building to some tragic-comedic level of peak awfulness, [it] lurches from revelation to revelation without coming together as anything more than a sloppy weekend where a lot of nasty crap goes down.” I tend to agree with both of these assessments.

And yet, I found something oddly compelling about these folks. Do you know people who seem to attract drama in their lives? I certainly do. My friend suggested that the former in-laws were much like the matriarch, played by Meryl Streep, and her children. I think Streep came off playing her role so well because, she has noted, she attempted to emulate Margo Martindale, who played her sister.

Was it only coincidence that the three daughters were played by actresses with similar first names, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson? They were convincing as siblings, the youngest of whom got stuck at home; I can relate.

The other roles, by Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard, and Misty Upham were all fine.

All this to say that I BELIEVED in these people, that there are, in Oklahoma or elsewhere, these complicated people in their screwed-up lives. It was a good, not great movie, but I’m glad I saw it. You may have to be in the right frame of mind to meet this clan.

MOVIE REVIEW: Hope Springs

The movie depends largely on the acting of Streep, Jones, and Carrell.

While The Daughter’s away with the grandparents, apparently making videos with her twin cousins, her parents get to go out to The Spectrum Theatre to see Hope Springs.

I totally agree with the reviewer at IMDB who decried “the trailer and marketing campaign…[as] a collection of sound bites making a film seem like something that it is not. This is NOT a geriatric sex comedy. In fact, I would not even call it a comedy.” Though it is about, among other things, sex (or lack of same) between Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), and it is occasionally quite funny. Their lives after 31 years of marriage apparently are fine with him, but she is wanting more. Kay goads Arnold to travel 1500 miles to see a therapist, Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell), and it is often tough sledding.

Although there are other characters, such as Kay’s friend (Jean Smart), the innkeeper (Damian Young), and a sympathetic bartender (Elisabeth Shue), the movie depends largely on the acting of Streep and Jones, who are excellent, and of Carrell, who is surprisingly solid.

A number of critics compared the movie to an Ingmar Bergman film, usually Scenes from a Marriage, which I think is unfair. I don’t think it sought to be that ambitious, just be a tale of one particular stuck couple.

If there’s something I didn’t like about the film, it was the too familiar music. Why did they use Annie Lennox’s “Why” again? I know I have at least a couple of soundtracks at home with that song on there.

Conversely, great use of the end credits, making it virtually impossible for the audience to leave.

Still, I thought it was a solid three-out-of-four-stars film.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Iron Lady

I’m still theorizing that Meryl Streep will FINALLY receive another Oscar for this film.

Now I get it. All the reviews that say that Meryl Streep is great as Margaret Thatcher, first female Prime Minister of England, in The Iron Lady, but the film, not so much, are pretty dead on. This movie starts off with a way-too-long bit with the aging Thatcher talking to her dead husband Denis (Jim Broadbent). It flashes back to the young Margaret Roberts (Alexandra Roach), daughter of a grocer with political ambitions, supported in this effort, at least in theory, by young Denis Thatcher (Harry Lloyd). Then back and forth between the elderly Maggie’s recollections and Thatcher (Streep) dealing with policy- often represented by stock footage of real events in the real MT’s 11-year rule. It’s a mess, yet Streep’s presence redeems it, but only somewhat. I think it would have been a better film of the older Thatcher recalling her past as she wrote her memoir, not trying to assume what’s going on in her presumably demented mind.

My wife, who saw it with me at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany on Saturday, felt kinder to the film. It may be because she was actually IN England during the Falklands War and had a Member of Parliament as one of her instructors at the time. Also because the film did address the issues of a woman being discounted. My wife liked the not-perfect makeup Thatcher applied, or her awkwardness wearing heels. There is a makeover scene which is my personal favorite.

What WAS interesting to both of us, though, was the series of struggles to balance the rights of unions with the desires of management, the fight over the fairness of the tax code, and the ability of the government to find the money for war even in a period of austerity; if I didn’t know better, I’d say it could have been the United States in the second decade of the 21st century.

I’m still theorizing that Streep will FINALLY receive another Oscar for this film. She has been nominated 14 times as best lead actress, and won once, for Sophie’s Choice, which came out in 1982. (She’s also 1 for 3 in the supporting category – 1979’s Kramer v. Kramer). It may be cynical, but I think that race still matters in Hollywood. It’s fairly clear that Octavia Spencer will win as the best supporting actress for her role as a maid in The Help; she got the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes, and probably some others. Meanwhile, Viola Davis won the SAG for best actress, but Streep won it from the GGs. I just don’t think the Academy is going to select two black women for major awards in the same year. I could be wrong; I’ve surely been wrong before. And Streep is deserving, but so is Davis.
***
Meryl Streep says her top priority when playing a character is to convince the other actors that she is who is playing.