Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Week of Streep (p.6)

(photos from the ever-amazing, Simply Streep)

1999: Music of the Heart

I should have probably included Music of the Heart in yesterday's post, as it is the last in Streep's streak of 90s family-oriented dramas. Word is that Madonna was supposed to play the role of real-life inner city music teacher, Roberta Guaspari, but Streep stepped in at the last minute and — being Meryl Streep — learned how to convincingly play the violin in record time.

She is wonderful, of course, holding her own even as she takes the legendary stage at Carnegie Hall with musical greats Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern. She is tough, but loving and you root for the kids and the art of music right along with her.

2002: Adaptation

After a short break, Streep returned to the screen in 2002 in Adaptation, a Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze film based on the struggle Kaufman endured while trying to adapt The Orchid Theif, a wonderful book by Susan Orlean. Streep plays both a real (in the first half of the film) and imagined (every weird and wonderful thing that happens after reality ends) version of Orlean.

It must be mentioned that Chris Cooper more than deserved the Academy Award he won for playing the passionate, obsessive and sublimely cooky John Laroche ("That's how much fuck fish"), whose scenes with Streep are some of the best ever committed to film. Streep is especially delightful when things start to get crazy; I could watch her brush her teeth, tell Laroche that she's 'very happy now' and make a dial tone for days on end without getting bored.

Adaptation is really a brilliant movie, and one of my all-time favorites — one that only gets better with each subsequent viewing.

2002: The Hours

Oh, The Hours, how do I ever explain how much I love thee? From the divine Philip Glass soundtrack, to the expert trio of Streep, Kidman and Moore, to the amazing supporting cast (Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, John C. Reilly) the entire movie is perfection. The novel, by Michael Cunningham, is one of my favorite books of all time and I am continually amazed at how expertly it was translated onto film.

It's quiet and beautiful and heartbreaking and moving — not to mention the one amazing kiss Streep shares with (the always amazing) Alison Janney. If that's not reason enough to see it, then you can't call yourself a fan.

Side note: Streep's character's name is Clarissa Vaughan, a name I absolutely adore — enough to have planned to name a hairless cat after her... If I ever get rich and crazy enough to buy a hairless cat, that is.

2003: Stuck on You

Yes, Meryl Streep is in the Farrelly brother's movie where Greg Kinnear and Matt Damn play siamese twins. Yes, I own this film voluntarily ONLY because Streep is in it. No, I don't recommend this film as a whole. Yes, Meryl Streep is hilarious as herself. Yes, I am done reviewing this film.

2003: Angels in America

I don't usually have the longest attention span, or the ability to remain awake during long movies. But Angels in America is so captivating, so devastating, so amazingly wonderful and choc-full of gaaah-sooo-goood Streep performances (4 total!) that its nearly 6 hr. running time seems more like 6 minutes.

Based on Tony Kushner's award-winning stage play, Angels would be brilliant without Meryl Streep. With her (also award-winning) performances as a rabbi (her first time playing a man, so convincingly that her co-stars had no idea it was MerylStreep under that beard), a Mormon, a principality and (a surprisingly hilarious) Ethel Rosenberg, it's beyond anything I can possibly describe.

Do yourself a favor and watch Angels, and then, watch it again (trust me, you'll want to).

2004: The Manchurian Candidate

In this 2004 remake of the Manchurian Candidate, Streep plays the role of Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, a woman in politics (not so far from that other famous woman in politics, you know) who has bigger balls than any man to ever walk Capitol Hill. She is riveting and certainly knows how to make a speech and work a room; if Streep ever decides to go into politics her opponents don't even stand a chance.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Week of Streep (p.5)

Ok, so I realize that I kinda dropped the ball on this whole Week of Streep idea, but I invented it, so I can make up my own rules where a week is actually more like a week and a half. So THERE.

(once again, all photos from the incomparable SimplyStreep)

1995: The Bridges of Madison County

Bridges is one of my top five Streep movies, and that isn't a distinction to be taken lightly. She is completely and totally devastating as the Italian-Iowan housewife, Francesca Johnson. Every move she makes — from a subtle shudder at a slamming screen door, to a stolen glance of sexy out-of-town photographer Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) — is perfection. Her accent is also (surprise!) spot-on, and she is nearly unrecognizable and convincingly Italian in appearance. You can feel her longing, smell her desire and touch her confusion and her passion in every moment she's on screen.

The scenes that take place in the present day, and focus on Francesca's grown children, are unnecessary in every way and really drag down an otherwise beautiful story. The movie makes complete sense (and is much better) without them; do yourself a favor and keep one finger near the fast-forward button at all times.

1996: Before and After

Unfortunately, after the near perfection of Bridges, Streep had nowhere to go but down. In fact, very, very far down.

Before and After, by all respects, should have been a great movie. It had a solid cast (Liam Neeson, Ed Furlong, and of course, Streep) and a pretty interesting premise (possible murder! mistaken identity!). Instead, Before and After has the dubious distinction of being the worst overall Streep movie, and — as much as this pains me to type —Streep delivers a less than stellar performance.

If I were referring to any other actor I might be more lenient, but this is Meryl-A-Dingo-Got-My-Baby-Streep. Maybe it's the brown hair (a hand-me-down from her Francesca Johnson days, no doubt) or maybe she was just not feeling the script, but whatever went wrong thankfully never happens again as Streep goes right back to being The Meryl Streep in her next film...

1996: Marvin's Room

Every time I re-watch Marvin's Room, I'm reminded just how great Meryl Streep is as Lee Lacker, the straight-talking, chain-smoking, cosmetologist student, single mother from Ohio — and I can tell you first hand that Streep absolutely nails it.

Just try not to laugh as she instructs her youngest (he's about 10) son to light a cigarette for her oldest (Leonardo DiCaprio who has recently burned down their house, and therefore can't be trusted with matches). Or try not to tear up as she styles the wig her sister (Diane Keaton, who's un-make-upped face is a tad frightening at times) is forced to wear after chemo treatments.

Side note: Marvin's Room marks the third time Streep has starred with her real-life friend Robert DeNiro, and he's quite hilarious as the bumbling Dr. Wally.

1997: ...First Do No Harm

Streep returns to the small screen in ...First Do No Harm, based on a true story of a family's struggle with their son's severe epilepsy. Streep is convincing as the boy's long-suffering mother, Lori Reimueller, and dives into the role from her mom hair cut down to her mom jeans.

This isn't by any means a must-see film in the Streep catalog, but the subject matter is certainly important, and the supporting cast (why hello, Fred Ward where have you been hiding since Silkwood?) is more than adequate.

1998: Dancing at Lughnasa

Dancing at Lughnasa is one of the Streep's most obscure films, and certainly one of the hardest to spell. Streep puts on her thickest Irish brogue to play one of the Mundy sisters, in a small role that required her to step dance as well age herself quite significantly.

It's a quiet film; in an interview Streep once said something like, "I'm not quite sure how to explain it without making you never want to go see it..." and I agree. So I will only say that it is indeed worth tracking down (I bought my copy at the now-defunct Tower Records).

1998: One True Thing

In more than two decades of screen time, and having faced every imaginable enemy — from the Nazis to the Dingoes — Streep tackles the big C(ancer) for the first time in One True Thing, based on the Anna Quindlen weeper of the same name. She stars alongside Renee Zellweger (who happens to be one of my very least favorite actresses) and the stoic William Hurt as Katherine Gulden, the strong-willed mother (to the former) and long-suffering wife (of the latter).

By now, Streep certainly knows how to bring the tears and emotions — and neither are in short supply here; be sure to keep those tissues within reach.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Week of Streep (p.4)

Ah, the Comedy Era of the Streep... After more than a decade of screen-time — during which she went on safari, fell in love with Robert DeNiro and out of love with Jack Nicholson, endured radiation poisoning and the Holocaust, and had her infant daughter taken by a dingo —Streep was ready to laugh.

Some discount this period in her career, but I've always thought that Streep is wildly funny and whether it's a Danish accent, or a prat fall, she consistently hits it out of the park.

1989: She-Devil

Now, I'm not about to claim that She-Devil, in which Streep stars alongside master-thespian Roseanne Barr, and that sex-pot* Ed Begley Jr., is an Oscar-deserving — or even a good — film. It's pretty terrible, as a whole. BUT I am prepared to defend Streep's decision to take the role of romance novelist Mary Fisher, and even suggest that she is wonderful in it. Streep seems to know that she's in a terrible movie, and she looks like she's having a blast. Don't go into She-Devil expecting Schindler's List, and you'll have a good time too.

*Ok, so I don't really think Ed Begley Jr. is a sex-pot. In fact, I think he's one of the most hideous humans I've seen, which makes the entire premise of the movie (two women fighting over him) even more hilarious. Now that's what I call comedy.

1990: Postcards from the Edge

One of Streep's finest comedic performances, is as Suzanne Vale in Postcards from the Edge, a film based on Carrie Fisher's novel/memoir of the same name. Streep is beautiful and complex as she goes from a hospital bed (after an accidental overdose) to rehab, to her mother's (the delightfully over-the-top Shirley Maclaine) house.

I could have done without Dennis Quaid's role as Suzanne's 'love' interest, although the scene where she shoots ("They're just blanks, asshole!") at him is quite rewarding.

The best scenes occur between Streep and Maclaine — especially when they both put on 'numbers' for a house full of guests. Streep finally gets a chance to showcase her extraordinary singing talent not one, but two times in Postcards, and that's always a treat.

1991: Defending Your Life

I wouldn't exactly call Defending Your Life a "quintessential" Streep film, but it's worth at least one viewing. Streep is perfectly lovely as Julia, the after-life love-interest of Albert Brooks (this is very much an Albert Brooks film) and you can easily see why Brooks would fall for the beautiful and should-be-annoying-but-isn't-for-some-reason, perfect Julia.

Defending Your Life also presents some interesting ideas about the after-life: Eating all you want and never gaining a pound? The Hall of Past Lives? Really soft robes and slippers? When I die, I want to go to there.

1992: Death Becomes Her

A much better attempt at over-the-top camp comedy than She-Devil, Death Becomes Her is a tongue-in-botoxed-cheek commentary on aging in Hollywood. Streep strikes comic gold as the insanely vain, reluctantly aging Madeleine Ashton, who doesn't think twice before stealing her homely (the ugly-fied Goldie Hawn) best friend's fiance (a hapless Bruce Willis). I couldn't possibly pick a favorite moment; from the extravagant opening number, to Hawn in a fat suit (!) and Streep throwing a javelin through the gaping hole in Hawn's torso ("Yes! I mean, No!"), Death is a must-see Streep staple.

Streep has a small role in the House of the Spirits, an unfortunately rather forgettable film with an unforgettable cast: Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, Antonio Banderas, Jeremy Irons and Vanessa Redgrave all star alongside Streep. I remember growing impatient waiting for the few glimpses of Streep, but watch closely: the adorable little girl playing Clara del Valle Trueba (Streep) as a child? That's Grace Gummer, Streep's real-life third child.

Side note: This film might be a little difficult to track down; the DVD is out-of-print, although I managed to find mine for around $5 at a used DVD store. I also have a VHS copy because, that's how I roll.

1994: The River Wild

How bad-ass is Meryl Streep that, in her 40s, she decides to try her hand at navigating class V rapids? Very bad ass. She also goes head-to-head with the 'there's-obviously-something-off-about-this-guy' Kevin Bacon (this movie is my ace when playing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon) and I won't spoil the ending for you, other than to say this: Bad. Ass.

Side note: How great is David Strathairn, like, always?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Week of Streep (p.3)

The 80s held many good times for the discerning Streep fan. While everyone was enjoying classics like A Cry in the Dark and Out of Africa during their theatrical runs, I was a little busy you know, being born.

Oh to have seen Out of Africa on the big screen, a girl can dream.

1984: Falling in Love

Falling in Love is not a great movie, despite the power-coupling (first seen on-screen together in The Deer Hunter) of Streep and DeNiro. It is, however, a good movie about two commuters who meet on a train and, of course, fall in love. The movie feels very dated, from the synth-heavy soundtrack to Streep's hair and over-sized outfits, but definite bonus points are awarded for scenes in the gorgeous Rizzoli Bookstore and for being a film about New York that was actually shot in New York.

1985: Out of Africa

One of Streep's greatest films, and certainly the most epic, Out of Africa is based on the wonderful memoirs of Isak Dinesen detailing her time spent on a coffee farm in the African highlands. I have to stop myself from impulsively booking a safari trip every time I finish watching this movie.

Everything about Out of Africa is epic, from the soundtrack, to the views of the African plains, and what Robert Redford lacks in technical skill (he's an Englishman that sounds an awful lot like... well, Robert Redford) he certainly makes up for in charm. Who wouldn't join a line a mile long to get their hair washed by that super sexy, suave man-creature?

1985: Plenty

Plenty is one of Streep's lesser known films, which in my opinion is a shame. Streep is fiercely sexy and intense as Susan Traherne, a woman who desperately seeks fulfillment and excitement in post-war Europe. Aside from being ridiculously gorgeous in every scene, Streep embodies Susan's restlessness and disappointment so perfectly that I actually ache along with her. She has plenty, but always wants for — and really needs — more (who hasn't felt this way?).

Plenty also includes what is perhaps my most favorite line ever uttered by Streep: "I would stop, I would stop, I would stop fucking talking if I ever heard anybody else say anything worth fucking stopping talking for!"

1986: Heartburn

Heartburn marks the first pairing of Streep and Jack Nicholson, and was based on a Nora Ephron 'novel' of the same name (I lost the copy I rented from the library before I ever got to read it so, I'm sure its great...). Much like Falling in Love, Heartburn is not a great movie and feels rather dated. It's definitely entertaining though, and worth watching if only for Kevin Spacey's very brief appearance as a 'New York City punk' and Streep's real-life daughter Mamie's screen debut as Streep's on-screen daughter, Annie.

As a cautionary note, don't watch this — or any other Nora Ephron movie — hungry; just thinking about the scenes where Streep and Nicholson eat delicious foods in bed makes me want to hit the kitchen (and then the bedroom) immediately.

1987: Ironweed

Ironweed is the second, and much more successful, pairing of Streep and Nicholson. This is definitely not a movie to watch when you're in need of a pick-me-up, believe me. Streep plays Helen Archer, a vagrant and a drunk with lofty dreams and even lower realities. She is absolutely and completely devastating in this film, and should have received every award imaginable. Unfortunately, this movie seems to have slipped under the radar, and wasn't even available on DVD until last year.

Nicholson is always Jack Nicholson, but it works here; Tom Waits (a fellow, almost-too-convincing drunk) and Fred Gwynne (yes, that's Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne) round out a wonderfully sad and vivid film. I think my heart actually breaks each time I watch Streep take the stage to sing "He's Me Pal" — keep the tissues handy.

1988: A Cry in the Dark

Based on the real-life drama of the Chamberlains, an Australian couple who claimed that 'a dingo got their baby,' A Cry in the Dark is the second time Streep stars opposite Sam Neil (the first was in Plenty). Streep plays Lindy, an admittedly difficult woman and mother who did nothing for her public image by dying her hair black and tweezing her eyebrows into such a sinister shape. Streep somehow makes you sympathize for Lindy —not the easiest task — and I never doubted her story for a minute.

I've heard Streep confess that Australian proved to be the most difficult accent for her to master, but I think she's only being modest; anyone would find it quite difficult to distinguish her from a native.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Week of Streep (p.2)

The madness continues (Happy Birthday Meryl Streep!)...

1979: Kramer vs. Kramer

I don't know if there's ever been a character with a screen time to impact ratio quite like that of Streep's Joanna Kramer. She is there right as the movie opens, and then, quite suddenly, she is not. She doesn't reappear until the movie is nearly over, and even though she is physically absent, she is most definitely not forgotten.

This is, arguably, a Dustin Hoffman movie, although I think Streep more than earns the Best Supporting Actress Oscar she eventually wins for Kramer. When she tells Hoffman that if she were to stay, she would end up 'out the window, or worse' you definitely believe and even feel her pain. You can also feel her fear when Hoffman smashes a wine glass against the wall, a move that, reportedly, completely surprised (and then quickly angered) real-life Meryl Streep.

As a side note, this movie also features some fine 70s fashions, some very good (Streep's oh-so-chic trench coat and slouchy boots) and some so-bad-they're-good (JoBeth Williams's aaaahhhmazingly large glasses).

1979: Manhattan

Another movie that co-stars Streep's luscious hair, Manhattan is basically a Woody Allen love letter to the titular city. Streep has a small role as Allen's estranged ex-wife (who is now a lesbian and well, who wouldn't be after dating Woody Allen?) and she is wonderful, as usual. Although I've never been able to make it through all of Annie Hall (I know, it's a classic, blah blah), Manhattan made me change my perception slightly on Woody Allen as a filmmaker.*

*With the combo of my favorite actress and my favorite city, this wasn't a difficult task.

1981: The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman, based on a novel by John Fowles, features not one, but two Meryl Streep roles. I was warned that this movie was 'difficult' and 'dreadfully boring', but Streep is captivating as usual. This is her first 'period' film, one she made after reportedly declaring that she needed to 'get out of New York, out of the present day', a sentiment that I can certainly understand. If you do nothing else, look at the poster for this movie, an amazing photograph of a cloaked and red-haired Streep that is anything but dreadfully boring.

1982: Still of the Night

Still of the Night has the distinction of being the only real 'thriller' that Streep has made, and even though it's nearly 20 years old, its Hitchcockian suspenseful plot still manages some thrills. Streep stars with Roy Scheider (of Jaws fame) and together they do a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat. That is, if you can find a copy of Still of the Night; as of right now, it's only available on VHS. And as I have said before yes, I have a copy and no, you can't have it.

1982: Sophie's Choice

Sophie's Choice is often sited as the 'quintessential' Streep performance, and the Academy certainly agreed; Streep won her first (and to date, only) Best Actress award for her role as Sophie Zawistowska, the concentration camp survivor with a devastating 'secret.' I happen to, for once, agree with the Academy. Streep is absolutely heart-breaking and radiantly beautiful, not to mention spot-on with her Polish, German and any other language or accent she tries on.

I also fell in love with the location; if someone locates that time machine I've mentioned before, I would most definitely like to go back to 1940s summertime Brooklyn, rent a room at the Pink Palace and weekend at Coney Island. Yes, please.

1983: Silkwood

Ok, how f'ing adorable is Meryl Streep as Karen Silkwood? If anyone could make a brown mullet, denim mini-skirt and cowboy boots look amazing, Streep is it. As a bonus, Silkwood is the only movie where you actually catch a glimpse (you might need to pause, and rewind and slo-mo it like... well, I did) of a real-life Streep boob (it's adorable as well). Whatever your politics or whatever you believe about the real-life Karen, if you don't cry hysterically at the end like I did, you're an inhuman machine. And I sincerely mean that.

(again, all photos from SimplyStreep)