Streep Ranges From 'Prairie' to 'Prada'

Sometimes pretty people do ugly things. That’s the moral of “The Devil Wears Prada,” a new film opening this week.

The devil in disguise is Meryl Streep, playing the powerful editor of a fashion magazine much like “Vogue,” who chews people up and spits ‘em out before she’s had her first latte.

The film’s based on the thinly-veiled novel of the same name, by a former assistant to real-life “Vogue” editor Anna Wintour.

Streep told me in a recent interview that her character is a fictional composite; she read the script before the novel, steering clear of a Wintour dramatization (“Less research for me,” she joked) and relying on “several powerful people in my own life” for her model.

“Prada” provided a particular thrill for the folks at FOX News: part of it was shot in the same building that’s home to our New York office and studios. That’s not because we’re fashionable, but because the film is distributed by 20th Century Fox, whose parent company, News Corp., owns FNC and the building.

Best of all is that the clothes from the film — designed by Patricia Field, who dressed the women in “Sex & the City” — were auctioned to raise money for breast cancer research and “Dress for Success,” an organization that helps underprivileged women enter the workforce. That was Streep’s idea.

So how are Hollywood and the fashion industry alike?

“Well, I know almost nothing about both so I'm probably the wrong person to ask,” said Streep, who makes it a point to live a relatively quiet life tending to her organic garden in Connecticut. “But I guess they are businesses based on things nobody really understands, and no one can plan for. And they’re both obsessed with youth and beauty.”

Age has enhanced Streep’s looks — she turned an effervescent 57 on Thursday — and certainly hasn’t kept her from working. “Prada” comes on the heels of “Prairie Home Companion,” based on Garrison Keillor’s NPR radio show, which is still in theaters.

Film, radio and TV worlds collide when Streep performs live July 1 on a special edition of NPR’s “Prarie Home Companion” from the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass. She’ll be singing a tune she wrote for her late father, and the entire event — featuring Keillor and his colorful band of sidekicks — will air July 2 on PBS’ “Great Performances.”

The Electric Car's Short Circuit

From flighty fashion to something more grounded … the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” pulls up in theaters this week. Check it out. It’s a window into mass marketing, government regulations, oil companies, consumer tastes and Hollywood — rolled into one. I can’t think of any other film that features top executives from General Motors and Phyllis Diller, can you?

The electric car, most notably GM’s EV1 model, sparked interest in California during the '90s among environmentally-conscious types, including stars Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks and Peter Horton (of “thirtysomething” fame). There’s no fuel — just plug it in, charge the batteries and it goes for about 60 miles until needing another zap.

Like anything else, it had its pros and cons.

“You know the old joke about the electric car,” my dad told me in a recent phone conversation, “It’s tough finding an extension cord that reaches all the way to Fresno.” (Thanks to Alan Bernhard for the material.)

But in this age of rising oil prices and global warming, it certainly seemed like a viable panacea.

As you wind your way through figuring out who did kill the electric car (the obvious answer would be the oil companies, but there’s more to it than that…) keep an eye out for what I think is the film’s most compelling scene: GM’s PR person waxing poetic on how these once-heralded vehicles will be on display in the Smithsonian, meticulously maintained by the company, etc. — spliced with scenes of the film’s director flying over a Southwestern desert where the fleet of cars are being unceremoniously crushed beyond recognition. Call it “Corporate Spin: Caught on Tape!”

Duvall's Fancy Footwork

He’s never been known to be quite as vulnerable as Hoffman, tough as DeNiro or complicated as Pacino. But Robert Duvall can, in turns, convey all those qualities, and his dossier reads like a UCLA film school syllabus: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” (his film debut, playing Boo Radley); “The Godfather”; “The Godfather: Part II”; “Bullitt”; “True Grit”; Robert Altman’s “M*A*S*H” (playing the original Frank Burns); “The Great Santini” and, of course, “Apocalypse Now” (he’ll forever be known for the line, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning…”)

His best television work has to be his Emmy-nominated role in the Western, “Lonesome Dove.” That mini-series, along with a movie shot a few years back with Kevin Costner called “Open Range,” motivated Duvall to star and produce this weekend’s two-part TV movie, “Broken Trail,” airing on AMC. It’s a post-Civil War drama about two cowboys driving a herd of horses from Oregon to Wyoming who come across five enslaved Chinese girls.

Duvall is a robust 75-year-old — partly, I imagine, from his busy film schedule and partly because he continues to feed his passion for the tango. (In 2001 he wrote, directed and starred in “Assassination Tango,” about a hit man who’s sent to Argentina and falls in love with the sensual dance.)

In a recent interview, Duvall told me he’s headed to Argentina this summer, with wife Luciana, to watch the world championship of tango.

Oh, and in case you’re like me and are oddly fascinated by the details of a person’s life … Duvall’s cell phone rang shortly after our interview concluded. His is no ordinary ring. The sound of the tango, you say? Try again. Macho Duvall’s mobile plays the French can-can.