Sunday, May 28, 2006

Streepathon Stop #1: The Deer Hunter

"Michael...?? ...oh, MICHAEL!!!" -Linda

Time: 1978 (2nd film)

Role: Linda, longsuffering war fiancee

Awards: 1st oscar nom, 1st GG nom; NSFC win (best supporting actress)

Fun Fact #1: This was Streep's first time working with Robert DeNiro. The two went on to work together again in Falling in Love (1984, not in the Streepathon) and Marvin's Room (1996, in the Streepathon), and are currently slated to reunite on the upcoming film First Man.

Fun Fact #2: This was the first of three of Streep's films to win the oscar for Best Picture. The second was Kramer vs. Kramer the following year, and the third was Out of Africa in 1985.

Fun Fact #3: Streep began dating co-star John Cazale during filming, but the relationship ended forever when Cazale died of bone cancer in March 1978, before their film was released. Streep would go on to marry sculptor Don Gummer in September of that same year, and the two remain married to this day.

Revealing photos: Streep laughs awkwardly as DeNiro gives her dirty looks (Robert DeNiro is mighty creepy, no?)

...but they must eventually have gotten close or else she wouldn't have worked with him again.

Film Review: The Deer Hunter is one harrowing film. Focusing on the lives and life changes of three friends who served in Vietnam, the film is a sobering portrait of war and what it does to the psyche. But the film is not about war. It's about people; it's about character development.

At the beginning of the film, we meet three friends - Michael, Nick, and Steven - who live in small town America and are preparing to go off to war. Steve (John Savage) gets married to a local girl just before they leave, and the others attend the wedding. Nick (Christopher Walken) proposes to his girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep), who accepts. Michael (Robert DeNiro) is not with anyone (though he seems to have a thing for Linda). He is rather stoic and surly; he is a deer hunter, the best hunter of the the group of friends, and will become their de facto leader and anchor during the war. The first hour or so is spent introducing us to the characters and their simple, small-town lives.

Then, at the start of the second hour, we see the men in the heat of battle, and the impact is jarring. Only one of the film's three hours is devoted to actual Vietnam war footage, but that one hour is enough to make you never want to be there... strong stuff... some very disturbing sequences. The three men endure fighting, torture, wilderness, etc. all the while trying to stay together, and make it home. Unfortunately, they don't all make it. The one who makes it back in the best shape (at least physically), is Michael, who returns to his town a different person.

The final hour is devoted to the fallout in these characters' emotional lives, and is no less harrowing. Some surprises are in store. No one is unchanged by the war. The ending is somewhat unsatisfying, but it's clearly meant to be that way. I myself didn't enjoy this film, per se, but of course it's not meant to be enjoyed. It's meant to be experienced... and frankly, given that I'm not predisposed to liking war films (or Robert DeNiro), the chances of my enjoying it were nill.

But regardless, I certainly respect it, and have no beef with its having won its year's oscar for Best Picture. When I saw it, it seemed a bit too long and drawn out, and not involving enough emotionally... but it's already improving in the memory, even if I'd never want to see it again.

Streep Review: Well... needless to say, this was not Streep's greatest performance. It was a great perf, don't get me wrong, but there was only so much she could do with the longsuffering girlfriend role, even if the character was more layered/conflicted than this type of role usually affords. Unlike more recent entries into the canon of longsuffering women, Streep's Linda was not definted entirely in terms of her man... she was defined more in terms of "manhood" in general, as someone different than the men in the film. She was basically the "token woman."

Still, Streep did some great things with the role. It's not much when stacked up against her later work, but Linda's a strong character, considering. To reveal more about her, I'd have to reveal more plot, which I don't want to do. Suffice it to say, Streep was good here... the film was not Streep-centric, of course, making it an awkward beginning to the marathon... but it was a good reminder of the humble beginnings from which La Streep sprung. Little did they know that the best was yet to come (and, perhaps, still is).

Next in the marathon: The French Lieutenant's Woman

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Merry Meryl Streep Day!

I was gonna title this post, "Happy Meryl Streep Day," but that doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

Anyway, I know my readers haven't been keeping up with my recent mad flurry of posts (unusual for me, I know), but I hope they'll still all get ample attention and comments (because they're good!). This latest one is a little celebration of Meryl Streep Day, an official holiday that takes place on May 27th of every year.

For more information on the holy day, check out Meryl's Wikipedia site, or her guest spot on Ellen, during which Meryl and Ellen play a funny accent game and discuss Meryl Streep Day, among other things. Then, for more Meryl goodness, have a look at this video, and this one... because, come on, how great a singer is Meryl? Her rendition of "You Don't Know Me," in particular, warms my heart.

Here's to you, Meryl. You're the greatest.

Also, the Meryl Streep Marathon (aka "The Streepathon") will begin later today, I promise... because what better day to start it than today?


OK, now the full X-Men team:

This is the best I could come up with for an ideal X-Men cast (for a TV show, since that's the best format for it, as if any of these stars would do TV... maybe an HBO series or miniseries?). The only trouble I can see is that Patrick Wilson is much, much younger than Julianne Moore, but still, this lineup in the late 90's would've been fab:

Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier aka Professor X
Ian McKellen as Eric Lensherr aka Magneto
Hugh Jackman as Logan aka Wolverine
Patrick Wilson as Scott Summers aka Cyclops
Julianne Moore as Jean Grey aka Phoenix
Angela Bassett as Ororo Munroe aka Storm
Alan Cumming as Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler
Jude Law as Warren Worthington III aka Angel
Kirsten Dunst as Dazzler
Brad Pitt as Gambit
Angelina Jolie as Rogue

...with special guest appearances by Michelle Pfeiffer as Emma Frost aka the White Queen, and Tom Cruise as Mr. Sinister.

This is my final word on this topic... because I don't think this can be topped. The ULTIMATE X-Men cast.... a dream.


Friday, May 26, 2006


Wolverine all hot n' bothered: the best part of X-Men: The Last Stand.

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New reviews: United 93 and X-Men: The Last Stand

So, I finally saw a film. In fact, I saw two films... in one day. Go me.

United 93 was good. I understand all the heavy praise. It's basically a faux-documentary (think the dramatic flip-side of a Christopher Guest film), but it oozes emotional truth in a way most documentaries (that I've seen, anyway) can't touch. There's really not much to say about it. They lay out the events; you watch. Pretty simple. But it's so skillfully done and so emotionally effecting that I was calling it "simple" seems insulting. But simplicity in art is very difficult. It is art's highest aim.

I really had no personal connection to 9/11 and I'm embarrassed to say that I barely remember that day, having been highly self-involved at that point in my life (like I'm not now... guffaw). So this film laid it out for me in a way I'd never had it laid out before. I actually remember thinking mid-way into the film, just as the actual highjacking was about to get underway, "oh god, I'm actually gonna see what happened on the plane... people are gonna get stabbed... the scene will become utter barbaric chaos"... I was not prepared for that... for some reason it hadn't occured to me that I'd have to see those things played out before my eyes. In truth, seeing footage of the planes hitting the towers was nothing compared to seeing those people in the planes, panicked, at knifepoint, not knowing what would happen, not knowing whether they'd live or die. It was pretty terrifying.

That said, I agree with some (i.e. Nathaniel Rogers) that the film was just sort of a blank slate on which to hang our own baggage... I don't know if I'd call it "great cinema"... but it WAS a very skillfully made re-enactment of a crucial event in our nation's history, one on which we should all have some perspective. It also seemed remarkably free of judgment, even of the hijackers... all I was thinking at the end was "what a tragedy". United 93 is a powerful and moving piece of work.

Verdict: "HIGHLY recommended."

X-Men: The Last Stand was, sadly, not as good. I understand the rather ho-hum reaction it's been getting from critics in early reviews. Bryan Singer's absense is made quite obvious even from the first frames. The requisite thrills and chills are there, but they all seem more forced, and more clumsily stitched together. Everything seems a bit more journeyman-like, a bit more rushed, a bit more shallow, a bit more... well... hackish. I am quite mad at Bryan Singer for leaving.

That said, the film was not a disaster. It was actually slightly (SLIGHTLY) better than I expected... but then, my expectations were low. You may notice that I'm waffling here. Well, yes, I am. I'm not really sure how I feel about it. The film, I mean... and also, about my relationship to the X-Men universe. I loved those comics in my childhood/adolescence. They were literally MY LIFE for a good few years. But I look back at the comics now and think "eh... they're just comics... I wouldn't be into them now." But regardless, they were special. And I think they deserved better treatment than they got here. That said, I understand that not everything could get into this movie, and that they had a lot of people to please, and very little screentime in which to do it. To truly do justice to the X-universe, a whole live-action TV series would have to be made, and that just wouldn't be financially feasible... and they certainly wouldn't get better actors for a TV show than they got here.

Speaking of the actors, the acting continues to be uneven (as the casting has been, too, but that's old news). MVP this time out is, again, Hugh Jackman, who continues to be a God. Not only does he have truly electric and magnetic screen presence (or maybe electromagnetic screen presence?), but also, even the lamest of dialogue somehow works when it comes out of his mouth. I don't know how he does it... the man is just an acting God... I only wish he'd do more films that were worthy of him. Least valuable player in X3 is undoubtedly Anna Paquin (sad, I know), who does a pretty terrible southern accent (sounding like she's trying and failing to imitate her old costar Holly Hunter... who'd make a much better Rogue, were she 20 years younger... see post below), and other than that, basically just sits around adding nothing to the film. Halle Berry was actually pretty decent this time on her own terms (nevermind that those terms entail a total misinterpretation of Storm's character... but whatever... I am over it... it's not her fault that she's not... um... again, see post below); she is at least consistent in her portrayal here, and doesn't do any bad accents or anything else that's too embarrassing. Famke Jenssen is not half-bad as Phoenix, although my ideal Phoenix would of course be... well, you know, see post below. Ben Foster was decent, albeit underdeveloped, as Angel (though I personally don't think he's that cute). Kelsey Grammar was a welcome addition as Beast; perfect casting, if you ask me. And Stewart and McKellen continue to provide gravitas as Xavier and his nemesis, Magneto.

The script, unfortunately, doesn't do the actors any favors. The dialogue is clunkier than usual in this outing, providing inappropriate laughs throughout. The story, also, leaves much to be desired, though the premise did sound quite promising. I'm really being harsh, though... the film has a lot to recommend it. There were a few pretty inspired moments that actually used the comic lore to good effect, but I won't spoil what they are, since they come as quite a surprise, given the general mediocrity surrounding them.

So, yes... I was disappointed. But the film is definitely worth seeing. Just don't expect your socks to be knocked off. At best, they might slide down to your heel... or something. Basically, the film was decent when it could've been great. The X-Men had a lot to offer the world of cinema and this time, they were treated rather shoddily. May the Wolverine spinoff (i.e. ALL Jackman ALL the time) be more fun. And hey, how could it not. It's JACKMAN. Jackman the acting God... but sadly, he was only one of the ensemble here. UPDATE: Everything but Jackman has soured a great deal in the memory. Nothing about this film was special... but go for the cheap thrills and chills.

Verdict: "Jackman is the only thing worth seeing."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Behold: The X-Ladies

Alright. I was just teasing Nathaniel on his blog with some of these possibilities for a "should-have-been" X-Men cast, and I just had to elaborate more here, and use pictures. Just imagine an X-Men film made 10 years ago, starring these amazing women (who also happen to be PERFECT for the roles):

Jean Grey (PHOENIX)

Emma Frost (the WHITE QUEEN)

Ororo Munroe (STORM)

Those three are a given, but I'm a bit torn on...




I thought of Holly Hunter first, as she is southern and by far my preferred actress of the two, but then I thought how she's actually a bit old for Rogue (and would've been even 10 years ago, cause Rogue is meant to be quite young) plus she's maybe not "gentile southern belle" enough... so perhaps MLP would be a better fit? I dunno. You tell me.

But HOW AMAZING would this movie have been? It hurts my heart even to think of it. But it hurts so good, so good...


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Nathaniel's Actors of the Aughts

I am loving this project. I remember when Nate did "Actresses of the Aughts" last fall and it started to consume my life... and this one, surprise, surprise, is now consuming me as well. I'm already ready to start guess as to how the top ten will play out. Some early guesses for the top spots:

Now, three of these men won't make the list... but I bet that the other ten will. But which ones? In what order? I have no idea... but I think Jude will top the list. He's a gift that just keeps on giving, with no endpoint in sight.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ouch! Da Vinci does a sweet belly flop.

The Da Vinci Code is now down to 18% on rotten tomatoes... I didn't think it could possibly land that low. Watching it tumble is almost as much fun as tracking Bush's approval ratings (which, to date, have sadly gone no lower than 29). Is it just me, or are critics getting harsher on big awards-bait or otherwise hyped up films that turn out to be disappointing? I remember thinking the "Geisha 35" was pretty shocking, but Da Vinci takes the hate even further. Really, I mean, things like A Beautiful Mind and Chocolat managed to stay "fresh" even though they're similarly reviled by film buffs... even The Grinch held fast at 50.

It just seems to me that the critics as a whole are much less willing to give films an easy pass these days (well, all except Roger Ebert)... maybe they're as sick of the declining quality as the general populace apparently is? I don't blame them. I still have yet to go see a 2006 release in the theater, and I certainly won't be seeing The Da Vinci code. I will eventually get my ass out to the multiplex to see United 93 and, of course, X3... and I guess I'll catch up with some smaller stuff on video.

Speaking of video, the Streepathon will begin soon, I promise... I just need to find 3 solid hours when I'm:

a) available, and...

b) in the mood to sit through The Deer Hunter.

It's proving to be a shockingly difficult task. But I will do it. I'm paying $10 a month for this netflix subscription, and I cannot afford to waste it much longer.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The cast of Proof

"Real Life" update! I will be directing a production of David Auburn's Proof this fall in Brown's little blackbox student theater space, and I'm super excited about it. The time's reserved, the deposit is made, the roles are cast, the show is on! I love the play and love all my wonderful actors, so I couldn't help but talk about it here... I know some people who read this blog (if anyone still does) must know and love Proof, and hence be somewhat into this post... even if it's only the film they've seen. I myself have not seen Proof the film, cause I heard it was kind of "blah" compared to the play, and I don't wanna see it now, cause I don't think my only real viewing of the material should be of a film adaptation... but I have to say, the trailer looks pretty good.

Anyway, here are my lovely actors. They are all wonderful. To those who know the show - do they look like good fits for these roles? I thought so.





I think that's all for now. But expect more Proof-related fabulousness here, cause it'll be consuming my life for some time.

"Crazy people don't sit around wondering if they're nuts."

"They don't?"

"Of course not. They've got better things to do."


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