Remembering Misty Upham

20 Oct

How shocked was I to read that actress Misty Upham was found dead late last week. Apparently, she had been missing since early October, which I also didn’t know. Her body was discovered not too far from her home in Washington state.

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Misty Upham (1982-2014). Here she is at the 2013 premiere of August Osage County, playing caretaker to Oscar nominee Maryl Streep’s venomous, cancer ravaged matriarch. Upham also confronted pervy Dermot Mulroney in one memorable scene. The actress recently completed filming Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston.

Upham was hardly a household name, but the Native-American had amassed a considerable filmography in a relatively short period. After toiling in television early in her career, she moved to feature films and made a memorable impression in 2008’s harrowing Frozen River opposite Oscar nominee Melissa Leo as a desperate single mom whose path crosses Upham’s. The two form an uneasy alliance, transporting illegal aliens from Canada into upstate New York. This grim wintry tale packs quite a wallop, and a lot of that comes from Upham who scored an Independent Spirit nomination in addition to claiming honors from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and the American Indian Film Festival. Not so incidentally, besides Leo’s Academy nod, writer-director Courtney Hunt competed for Best Original Screenplay honors.

From Frozen River, Upham went on to the likes of Django Unchained (2012), a major Oscar contender, and last year’s star-studded August: Osage County, in which she held her own up against a cast full of well seasoned hams, inclduing Oscar nominees Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Happily, Upham shared a SAG nomination for ensemble acting with her high-profile co-stars.

Her IMDb filmography lists 18 acting credits, including Skins (2002), with Eric Schweig and Graham Greene, along with TV’s Big Love, but the fact that she made her mark in three Oscar contenders, earning a passel of honors along the way, indicates that she might have very well been on her way to true stardom and also makes the mysterious circumstances of her death at age 32 all the more puzzling. Early reports indicated a possible suicide though Upham’s dad released a statement indicating that his daughter died from a fall and that she had possibly been in hiding from the police.

In an era in which confusion seems to be the norm, we might never know the truth, and that saddens me a great deal. Frozen River, indeed. Rest in peace, dear Misty….

Meanwhile, if you haven’t see Upham and Leo in their remarkable combined effort, isn’t it about time?

 

 

Misty Upham at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1130728/

Mr. Uphams’s statement in Peoplehttp://www.people.com/article/misty-upham-died-fleeing-police-father-claims

 

We Need More Hedy Lamarr

12 Oct
Hedy Lamarr

What did Hedy Lamarr (above) really think of her films? What did she consider her best work? Reports vary from source to source. For example, an IMDb trivia item indicates that Lamarr thought her best work was in Cecil B. DeMille’s blockbuster, Samson and Delilah. Certainly, that was far and away her most popular film. Another obscure source hails the adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat as her finest offering. In her memoirs, Lamarr singles out Experiment Perilous as the film she in which she most liked herself (101); however, she also writes, “most critics agree” that her best work was in 1941’s H.M. Pulham Esq. and that she also “liked it the best” (92). She praises the script’s “three dimensional character” and declares that the finished product was a “triumph for both Robert Young and me” (92). In his Lamarr book, Richard Rhodes corroborates, citing Lamarr’s claim that H.M. Pulham featured “her favorite role” (180). Alas, neither Young nor Lamarr were singled out for awards recognition at the close of the year.

Remember that classic Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell as a zealous cow-bell-ist in a presumed flashback to the recording of Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” The joke is that the record producer, played by frequent SNL host–and Oscar winner–Christopher Walken, extols, to Ferrell’s delight, “We need more cowbell.”

Well,  I think we need more Hedy Lamarr. Let me explain. I saw a YouTube clip recently that showed a girl who is  consistently encouraged to focus more on being neat. pretty, and feminine rather than engage in science and outdoor activities. Really? In 2014?

Of course, we also have tremendous peer pressure, and young girls feel compelled to live up to impossible standards of beauty seen in movies, TV, and advertisements. It’s a dilemma, for sure. After all, the media serve huge whopping doses of fantasy often presented as reality, but putting all the blame on the media or restricting what images of womanhood are released into pop-culture is not the answer. Who doesn’t want and need–or crave–a little fantasy every now and then? All this fuss.

The allure of old-time Hollywood movie stars, such as Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable, was, well, their other-worldiness. We wanted and expected them to be better than us, to be  better looking, more romantic, and more dynamic. We live our lives in real time, and then we lose ourselves in the fantasy culture provided by the movies. To that end, the bosses at the Hollywood studios exerted a great deal of influence to cultivate the extraordinary images of stars both on and offscreen, the latter often as much an illusion as any spectacle unspooled on the silver screen. I’m not sure that stars were necessarily expected to be role models because there was something inherently fake about them, and that was generally well understood. Again, they were other-worldly, luminaries.

Enter Ms. Lamarr. Hedy Lamarr, nee Hedwig Eva Maria Kessler, was an Austrian born actress who came to America after making a splash in Europe with a tease of a film entitled Ecstasy (1933). She signed a contract with MGM, made her debut in the exotic Algiers (on loan to Walter Wanger at United Artists) opposite Charles Boyer, and was soon hailed as the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, no, the most beautiful woman in the world. Everybody said so. I once saw Lana Turner, no slouch in the looks department herself and Lamarr’s Ziegfeld Girl co-star, say in a TV interview that Hedy Lamarr was without the doubt the most gorgeous woman in all of moviedom, no question about it; however, the full-lipped raven haired  beauty with bedroom eyes was never content to rest on her good looks. Lamarr understood the power of beauty–and quite clearly traded on it–though she also understood its limitations:  “Any girl can be glamorous,” she once remarked. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid” (Rhodes 3). Easy for her to say, right? She was beautiful beyond compare, yet I don’t think anybody ever really considered her stupid.

Fortunately, and thanks to her father, Lamarr developed an insatiable curiosity about the way things worked and worked on a number of inventions in her downtime in Hollywood, turning her drawing room into a fully functioning workspace (Rhodes 3). By now, we all know, or we should all know, that during the WWII years Lamarr famously collaborated with composer George Antheil on the development of broad spectrum radio,  a patriotic endeavor for her adopted homeland, that ultimately led to today’s omnipresent wireless communication, that is, cell phones, GPS, etc. Indeed, the pair was granted U.S. Patent No. 2,292, 387 for their “Secret Communication System” (187), and that’s why we need more Lamarr, to remind school girls that major beauty AND major brains are not mutually exclusive. The main thing is for girls to not feel pressure to be anything more/less than who they are.  Lamarr was exquisitely beautiful, but at least some of that was luck, but her curiosity about how things work(ed) was also an undeniable aspect of her genuine self, and she never forgot that.

Anymore, Lamarr is not looked at, or back on, fondly in the same way as, oh, just about anyone: Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, or even Betty Grable.  There are at least two reasons for that. First, Lamarr was hardly a world class actress. Oh, she wasn’t the worst actress on the lot, but she lacked thespic gusto. She could be engaging, true, but she rarely seemed spontaneous. Maybe she wasn’t as comfortable acting in English as she was speaking it conversationally. Maybe her beauty contributed to a certain level of self-consciousness. Another reason why Lamarr isn’t as emblazoned as the likes of Hepburn et al  in our collective moviegoing consciousness is because she was rarely offered  plum roles. In the 1930s, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford reigned supreme among MGM’s actresses. In the 1940s, Greer Garson was the go-to woman for prestige pics, witness her six Oscar nominations between 1939 and 1945; nonetheless, in her day, Lamarr was one of MGM’s top draws although a great deal of her success no doubt came from the fact that she was often paired with high–higher–profile male stars, such as the aforementioned Charles Boyer along with Spencer Tracy, with whom she co-starred three times, (I Take this Woman, Boom Town, and Tortilla Flat), Clark Gable (Comrade X and the aforementioned Boom Town), James Stewart (Come Live with Me), William Powell (The Heavenly Body), Walter Pidgeon (White Cargo), and Bob Hope (My Favorite Spy) to name just a few.

A persistent myth is that Lamarr was once considered for Ilsa Lund, the Ingrid Bergman role, in Casablanca (itself perhaps influenced by Lamarr’s Algiers) though almost everyone associated with the 1942 classic insists that those claims are wildly exaggerated if not outright fabrications. Along those same lines, Lamarr reportedly had the chance to reteam with Charles Boyer in Gaslight, for which Ms. Bergman won her first Oscar. Alas, that scenario was not to be, though Lamarr acquitted herself admirably enough in RKO’s Gaslight-esque Experiment Perilous (long my grandma’s favorite Lamarr pic), co-starring George Brent and Paul Lukas. The movie’s shattering aquarium sequence is often credited with inspiring a similar scene in 1996’s Mission Impossible, btw.

Lamarr took control of her career when she formed a production company with Jack Chertok and Hunt Stomberg, the results of which were two starring vehicles, Strange Woman (which Lamarr insists at least broke even [120]) and Dishonored Lady (co-starring John Loder, her then–almost ex–husband). Today, both movies have their followers (I prefer the latter to the former), but neither did much to advance the star’s career. Indeed, in spite of meaty roles, both films can’t get around one of Lamarr’s weaknesses. She often doesn’t listen convincingly when she’s acting. She looks as though she’s pretending to listen while waiting to say her next line, and it keeps her at a remove from the audience’s favor.

She found her greatest box office success at Paramount in Cecil B. DeMille’s Technicolor extravaganza, Samson and Delilah.  The biblical epic was Lamarr’s first color picture, and she looks great…if also a little  bored. Unfortunately, despite the movie’s immense popularity, Lamarr was never able to capitalize on its success, and the remainder of her career–with the possible exception of 1951’s My Favorite Spy--is pretty much undistinguished.

Picture 13

That’s Robert Young on the left and Lamarr on the right. Per Lamarr, a reviewer for Time magazine proclaimed her a “revelation” in 1941’s H.M. Pulham, Esq.

One of Lamarr’s film highlights is 1941’s H.M. Pulham, Esq., which she identified as her best work in Ecstasy and Me, her scandalous 1966 autobiography. Lamarr’s star at MGM was so big at that time she snagged top billing over Robert Young, who actually portrays the titular character, aka Harry, but we’ll get back to him.

Lamarr plays Marvin Myles, a women’s products copywriter at a New York City ad agency. She’s bold, fun, 100% authentic and has an amazing work ethic with a strong sense of office protocol. She’s utterly delighted by her new co-worker, Harry:  Harvard man and WWI vet from a well-to-do Boston family.  Oh, he’s a pip of a guy, but he also doesn’t recognize just how much he’s been shaped by his conservative, privileged background. At the same time. he’s intrigued by Myles and willingly surrenders to her charms–and why not? Lamarr inhabits the role and makes a smashing impression. She’s quick-witted, light-hearted, and light on her feet as well.  She’s also slightly frazzled, especially after a productive day though she clearly gets a charge out rolling up her shirt sleeves, so to speak, and getting down to business. Lamarr has rarely shown this kind of confidence and vitality, that is, without seeming forced and phony. Alas, her character–as noted–is saddled with a masculine name, which seems a ridiculously unfortunate choice, a tired statement about women driven to succeed in a man’s world–one that still rears its ugly head in Hollywood from time to time.

As good together as Miles and Pulham are, they can’t escape their pasts. She’s not looking to be a wife, yet, and he’s a product of a traditional upbringing in which marriage and family automatically follow love and romance. Oh, don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything. Most of the story is told through a series of flashbacks as Pulham thinks back on the choices he’s made, including the choice to split from Miles and the whole of New York City in order to return to Boston, marry his childhood sweetheart, and manage affairs of the family.

Picture 14

Also, per Lamarr, no less than Cue rhapsodized that she was “startling in her understanding” of her H.M. Pulham, Esq. role (92). Again, that’s Young on the left and Lamarr on the right.

As wonderful as Lamarr is, and in spite of her top billing, the movie really belongs to Robert Young. whose performance will likely come as a surprise to anyone only familiar with his work on such TV shows as Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D.–for which he earned a total of 7 Emmy nods, winning twice for the former and once for the latter. I have to say that the first several minutes of H.M. Pulham, Esq. collectively rank as one of my all-time favorite opening sequences. In the beginning, Pulham is a middle aged fuddy-duddy though Young was still in his 30s at the time. He has an established routine, one that he sticks to with great rigor, and his every crisp, measured movement is timed to his internal metronome. So, we watch as he methodically eats his breakfast, dutifully folds his napkin, and purposefully times the morning jaunt to his Boston office. This guy even wears rubber overshoes during sunny weather. Midway, in one of the flashbacks, when Young plays at least a decade younger than his actual age, he’s so delighted with with his circumstances that he can’t wipe a silly grin from his face, nor can he resist spinning with joy as if he’s as light on his feet and in his movements as a trained dancer.  Really, just everything about Young’s performance, well, both leads’ performances, actually, is enough to inspire awe.

The stars aren’t the only draws as this Warner Archives (print-on-demand) classic showcases everything that was once wonderful about the old Hollywood system. First, the print itself is pretty much a model of black and white clarity.  The folks at Warner make no claims that their pressed-to-order discs are taken from pristine prints. Instead, they instruct consumers that the best possible prints have been used, but that can mean just about anything. In this case, the results are smashing. One especially startlingly seamless sleight of cinematic hand occurs when Mr. Pulham walks from the street into a florist stand in one uninterrupted take, all the more remarkable given the sharpness of the foot traffic seen through the shoppe’s plate glass window from the inside. Another clever bit juxtaposes an exterior shot with some kind of trompe-l’œil effect featuring the stately Pulham family manse. Another well-executed scene offers a peek of snow almost magically falling outside a skyscraper windowOn the other hand, the WWI scenes are clumsy and obviously faked. Still again, another fun sequence shows Pulham’s love letter-inspired reveries continually interrupted by the sounds and voices of his current circumstances. For a fairly conventional story, this one displays impressive cinematic flourishes.

Furthermore, though HM Pulham, Esq. hardly registers as an all-time classic in the collective consciousness of most moviegoers, let alone the Academy, the National Film Registry, or the American Film Institute, the project merited MGM’s top-of-the-line talent, a testament to the idea that consistency  in all things was  key to the success of the old studio system [1]. To begin, the material stems from Pulitzer winning author John P Marquand (The Late George Apley).  The director is no less than King Vidor, whose many, many credits include Oscar nominated work for The Champ, The Crowd, and, oh yes, War and Peace [2]; meanwhile, H.M. Pulham, Esq‘s  crisp black and white cinematography is courtesy of Ray June, a three-time Oscar contender for the likes of 1957’s superb Funny Face. Legendary art-director Cedric Gibbons, designer of the famed Oscar statuette  with a whopping 39 nominations and 11 wins, is credited for his contributions to the picture along with set decorator–and Oscar heavyweight–Edwin B. Willis. These two giants shared Oscars for the likes of The Bad and the Beautiful, An American in Paris, The Yearling, and Gaslight [3]. Even so, the makeup team, headed by Jack Dawn, fails Lamarr in the pre/post flashback scenes by unimaginatively turning her into Elsa Lanchester’s Bride of Frankenstein (or Yvonne De Carlo’s Lily Munster) with an obnoxious too uniformly streaked silvery-white hair to suggest that she has aged, yet she’s only 40ish for cryin’ out loud, but this was SOP in Hollywood back in the day as anyone who’s ever seen, say, Bette Davis in Old Acquaintance can attest.

Some of Hollywood’s most reliable actors and actresses round out the formidable supporting cast, and that includes, in no particular order, the great Van Heflin (Best Supporting Actor for the same year’s Johnny Eager), Ruth Hussey (a supporting nominee for 1940’s The Philadelphia Story), Charles Coburn (a three time Academy nominee, winning for 1943’s The More the Merrier), Bonita Granville (nominated for 1936’s These Three), Anne Revere (Best Supporting Actress for 1944’s National Velvet with two additional nominations besides), wiry Charles Halton (clearly a silver screen precursor to the late, great Charles Lane), and Leif Erickson [4]. Eagle-eyed viewers may also spot a young Ava Gardner as an extra in a nightclub scene.

In H.M. Pulham, Esq., Hedy Lamarr’s Marvin Myles teaches the eager, young title character a thing or two about life in the big city, away from the comfy confines of Boston and his seemingly charmed life. In real-life, Hedy Lamarr, in spite of her oft quoted disdain for glamour, teaches us–still–that beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive, and that’s a powerful message for girls who to this day sometimes feel pressured to be one or the other. Of course, Lamarr is hardly alone. All of us know women of all kinds, of all shapes and sizes, who accomplish wonderful and industrious things each and every day, but as that dolt from Microsoft recently demonstrated when he suggested that it’s best for women in the workplace to be quiet rather than ask for raises and trust that, in spite of of ongoing discrepancies in pay between men and women, karma will save the day and bring home the bacon, we need more. We need more bold women. We need more Hedy Lamarr.

Thanks, Hedy!

Notes:

Lamarr, Hedy. Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman. 1966. Greenwich: Fawcett, 1968.

Rhodes, Richard. Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the   World. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.

[1] The argument goes something like this: take a movie as well regarded as Singin’ in the Rain, which was nominated for exactly 1 Academy award (Jean Hagen, Best Supporting Actress). Of course, today film fans and academics are likely to rate Singin’ in the Rain as one of the very best, if not THE very best, musical of its era. How could the Academy be so shortsighted? Well, again, one argument is that during the era in which studios kept pumping a steady stream of films into the marketplace, Singin’ in the Rain was just one of MGM’s top offerings, the norm rather than the exception. Time is what has rendered it so special in our collective movigoer’s consciousness. The same can almost be said for H.M. Pulham, Esq., a handsome, well-executed movie that was made in an era in which such movies were the goal year-round rather than the stuff of which Oscar campaigns are set in motion during the  fall and holiday months. The difference is that time has not lent it a comparable mystique.

[2] After five nods, the director was finally honored by the Academy with a life achievement award. We also now know that Vidor directed at least a portion of the sepia sequence that opens The Wizard of Oz.

[3] Of course, this was the era in which department heads were often accorded credit–and awards–for work which they may supervised without necessarily creating themselves.

[4] Born William Y. Wycliffe Anderson, the prolific character actor enjoyed great success with TV’s High Chaparral in the 1960s; in his early Hoilywood days he was married to no less than Frances Farmer.

Official Hedy Lamarr website: http://www.hedylamarr.com/business/ 

H.M. Pulham, Esq. at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033686/

Lake Bell: Into a Man’s World

4 Oct

I skipped Woody Allen’s latest, Magic in the Moonlight. The trailer looked fabulous–filmed in the south of France–and I do like both Emma Stone and Colin Firth, of course, but the reviews were, well, mixed to lukewarm, and an Allen film truly needs the critics’ collective stamp of approval in order to break into the mainstream. Oh well, life is short, movies aren’t cheap, and my schedule these days is already hectic enough. On the other hand, I was surprised to see that the film was still playing in first-run theaters as recently as two weeks or so ago. Maybe I’ll catch up with it at my neighborhood discount house.

Now, back to Allen. A year ago, or thereabouts, Cate Blanchett was at the top of her game, earning rapturous reviews for playing Allen’s modern interpretation of Tennesee Williams’s tragic Blanche Du Bois, in Blue Jasmine. Blanchett went on to clean-up rather decisively in the year-end awards derby, ultimately claiming her second Oscar, and her first for Best Actress, in a field that also included Sandra Bullock in the box office phenom Gravity, which was earning film festival raves at this time a year ago, still a few weeks shy of its actual wide release.

In_a_World_poster

Quick! How many women have actually written, directed, produced, and starred in their own feature films? Not too damn many, relatively speaking. With In a World, Lake Bell joins the likes of Barbra Streisand who established herself as a quadruple threat with 1983’s Yentl. More recently, the late Adrienne Shelly wrote, directed, and played a supporting role in 2007’s Waitress, but, per the IMDb, she is not credited as a producer. Once upon a time, silent film star Mabel Normand wrote, directed, and starred in shorts, but her producer credits are scant. Of course, Lena Dunham is making, well, a world of difference with her HBO series, Girls; meanwhile, in the entirety of Oscar history, only Warren Beatty and Orson Welles have been represented in all four such categories for single achievements (Heaven Can Wait and Reds for the former; Citizen Kane for the latter.)  Woody Allen, Roberto Benigni, Kevin Costner, and Clint Eastwood are all Academy triple rather than quadruple threats. This is off the top of my head stuff, but, of course, as I often tell my students: more research might be needed.

Also generating plenty of buzz at this time last year was Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said, a solid romantic comedy which paired the popular TV actress with James Gandolfini, who’d passed away earlier in the summer; however, this is not a piece about Enough Said though the movie saw many year end accolades, including a Golden Globe nod for Ms. Louis-Dreyfus  and  a SAG nomination for Gandolfini.

Yet another film more or less making the rounds about this time last year–to generally positive reviews–was In a World, an indie showcasing the talents of quadruple threat Lake Bell: actress, writer, director, and producer [Note: I began writing this in September.], a massive undertaking for anyone, compounded by the fact that 1. Bell had never written nor directed a feature film. 2. She’s a woman in an industry still dominated by men; 3. She was clearly working with a micro-budget, reportedly less than a million–and in a mere 20 days to boot [1]. To be perfectly frank, the movie leaves quite a lot to be desired visually as though Ms. Bell ran short on light bulbs; however, despite the movie’s shortcomings, it still generates plenty of goodwill–and laughs.

In a World throws the spotlight on the little reported world of voiceover artists, everything from vocal coaches to product spokespersons and, most crucially, movie trailers. You know, the ones that begin with those three immortal words, “In a world…,” made most famous by the unmistakably resonant tones of Don LaFontaine, who passed away in 2008. In Bell’s world, the late LaFontaine’s considerable shoes have never been filled though one Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), now on the cusp of winning a “Golden Trailer”  lifetime achievement award (basically a real thing), looms as a ripe candidate.  The male dominated movie trailer world holds much fascination for Soto’s daughter Carol (Bell). She’s not exactly a slacker, but she still lives with dad while trying to support herself with freelance vocal coaching gigs and the like though that arrangement will be short-lived thanks to dad’s latest squeeze, who’s about the same age as Carol. Evidence of Bell’s screenwriting savvy surely comes to mind with her treatment of the young girlfriend played by Alexandra Holden. Bell sets up an expectation within the audience and then spins those expectations in a new and refreshing direction.

I like Bell as an actress. She damn near stole scenes with her exquisitely dry delivery as Alec Baldwin’s trendy second wife in It’s Complicated, no easy thing that, what with a cast that includes Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, and, oh yes, someone named Meryl Streep.  Seriously,  Bell is all over the place in her own pic, not  only as Carol who slips in and out of a number of schticks, such as cockney mob wife, Russian Princess Leia, and something called “Sexy Baby,” voice among others. What most people don’t know, unless they listen to the audio commentary, is that Bell’s voice is heard throughout the movie in unexpected ways, serving a variety of off-camera bits, including a crusty old male agent with a thick accent. Besides the goofy voices, Bell performs commendably, working almost effortlessly at playing a true misfit: stringy auburn-to-maroon hair, bad posture, questionable wardrobe choices (30ish woman wearing preppy plaid skirts is bit peculiar, right?), and appropriately goofy line readings to go with goofy expressions, such as “sister code,” which is as successful with her sister as “fetch” is with Regina George and the rest of the Mean Girls. Her gift for physical comedy is plenty evident in a short scene in which she wakes up, tangled, in a strange bed. It’s a short bit, maybe only a minute, but it’s skillful work. Oh, and she’s not much of a dancer either. By the way, Bell’s performance earned her an American Comedy Award nod for Best Actress though she lost to Melissa McCarthy in the execrable, if hugely popular, The Heat.

As good as Bell is an actress, In a World really showcases her abilities as a crackerjack screenwriter. On one hand, her movie works as a Hollywood satire in miniature. For example, most films about the movie biz focus on the biggies: actors, directors, producers, and even writers. Someone is either trying to get ahead, is on his/her way down, or is itching for a comeback—and the stakes are high. Bell shows all of the competitive, cut-throat nature and petty bureaucratic bull-shit that’s par for the course in everything from Sunset Boulevard to The Player, Ed Wood, The Muse, and For Your Consideration, but she throws the spotlight on a part of Hollywood that’s unknown, and then asks the audience to actually care about people who take enormous amounts of pride and care doing a job that pretty much functions as background noise for most moviegoers, Don LaFontaine’s signature “In a word,..” not withstanding.

On the other hand, In a World is a comedy about a family ironically derailed by a lack of communication. At least two family members work in a field in which “voice” is everything, but they’re not so good at talking openly and honestly with each other; moreover, Bell provides a nifty twist in that the competition is between a father and a daughter rather than a mother and a daughter, a trope played out in such show-bizzy features as Mommie Dearest and Postcards from the Edge.  All of this comes together hilariously in a sequence juxtaposing an awkward pursuit between father and daughter and a “preview” of The Amazon Games, a Hunger Games-style dystopian action pic, the first we’re promised of an upcoming “quadrilogy,” which has to be the funniest word ever invented for a movie, and, of course, the characters in all their fevered enthusiasm keep repeating it. Again, Bell has a gift for coining goofy expressions.

Still, there’s room for secondary familial discord in Bell’s pic except that I don’t want to give too much away, but I will guarantee that, again, storylines converge in the most confounding way, resulting in a wildly inappropriate exchange as Carol bursts through a door exclaiming at the top  of her lungs, “Guess who’s a slutty whore!” You may actually have to stop to catch your breath before you allow yourself the giddy pleasure of a laugh. Along with that, Bell packs plenty of one-liners in her script, but they usually operate on a delayed beat. In other words, the moment may have already passed when the weight of the gag finally hits. Now, that’s talent, but don’t take my word for it. Bell’s accolades for either writing, directing or both include a Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival–huge win, that–as well as Alliance of Women Film Journalists and Independent Spirit nominations; moreover, two groups, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association along with the Phoenix Film Critics Society, honored In a World as the year’s most overlooked or unsung film. Indeed, for all the honors she scored, I still wish her movie had packed a bigger punch at awards time, meaning a Writers Guild nod, a shot at the SAG Best Ensemble prize, or, of course, recognition at the Golden Globes. I don’t know that an Oscar nod, even in the screenplay category, was ever really in the cards.

Of course, it’s no surprise that Bell demonstrates generosity with her fellow actors, starting with aforementioned Fred Melamed as the preening peacock of a dad whose self-regard is tempered with false modesty . In real-life, as Bell explains on the DVD commentary, Melamed actually works as a voiceover artist, but he definitely exercises his comic chops playing a proud fish in a pond, no fishbowl, that might actually be bigger (not smaller) than he thinks. Ken Marino as yet another preening peacock, an emerging star in his field, but more stooge, ultimately, than stud. I was, and am, amused by the wonderful Demetri Martin in the role of a sound engineer who pines for Bell’s Carol. Martin reminds me–in the best possible way–of Jason Schwartzman and  the wistful romantics he’s played in such films as 2005’s Shopgirl. Martin and Bell, or rather Louis and Carol, play well off each other’s eccentricities.  Stephanie Allyne contributes fine work as the office ditz. Oh, and In a World benefits from a variety of cameos, thereby coming across as more authentically Hollywood: Geena Davis, basking in the role of a powerful producer with a strong feminist agenda; Eva Longoria as herself but in a context that must be heard to be believed, and Cameron Diaz, seen briefly as a warrior in the much anticipated trailer for Amazon Games. Gotta love that quadrilogy.

Thanks for your consideration….

Official In a World website: http://inaworldmovie.com/

[1] Read the Rolling Stone article: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/lake-bell-finds-her-directorial-voice-in-in-a-world-20130809 

Bacall: Bogie’s Baby & The Look

14 Sep
Betty Bacall

The one and only Lauren Bacall, the very definition of “Hollywood royalty” (per a line in 1981’s Mommie Dearest), but Bacall was scrappy, a survivor who candidly documented her life’s many ups and downs in her book, By Myself (1978), which I read a long, long, time ago. She begins by describing a time as a teen she got busted for smoking when vintage concoction Sen-sen failed to hide her tobacco breath. She also recounted her relationship with Frank Sinatra, with whom she co-starred in Harper, and a tumultuous marriage to Jason Robards Jr., the father of her third child.

In celebration of the late Lauren Bacall’s birthday, Turner Classic Movies is running a Bacall marathon, beginning on Monday, 9/15/2014, and continuing through Tuesday, 9/16/2014.

We all know Lauren Bacall was Bogie’s baby. Bogie’s bride to be more precise, but in spite of her grand dame no-nonsense persona, she often played the role of the bridesmaid and only rarely the bride. I’m referring specifically to the 1996/97 Oscars. After decades in the movie biz, and a helluva late-start Broadway career, Bacall scored her first ever Oscar nod, oh about 50 years after making her film debut. Her nod came for her characteristically take-charge performance as Barbra Streisand’s glamorous, domineering ma in the latter’s Americanized remake of The Mirror Has Two Faces (a loose update on a similarly titled French movie from the late 1950s). In Streisand’s scenario, her brilliant, if mousey, English professor just can’t catch a break in a family dominated by such beauties as sister Mimi Rogers and her still vibrant mother, a widow who works as a makeup artist and still entertains her share of gentlemen callers. Babs feels as though mamala thinks less of her because she’s not a looker in the same league as everyone else, and mom really doesn’t help. She’d rather avoid the conversation. The role is a bit of a risk for Bacall because she sometimes comes across as cruel rather than nurturing, the way we want and expect mothers to be; however, director Streisand wisely waits for just the right moment to expose the mother’s vulnerability, and Bacall rises to the occasion expertly, exquisitely.

So, there we all were the night of the Oscars, and Bacall seemed poised for victory by almost any standard, not the least of which was the fact that in the preceeding weeks and months she had won both the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild award, among other honors; however, when Kevin Spacey (the year’s previous Best Supporting Actor for The Usual Suspects) announced the winner, he called Juliet Binoche to the podium for her most excellent performance in the year’s leading contender, The English Patient (a choice that somehow suddenly seemed right to me even though I was actually rooting for neither her nor Bacall but Barbara Hershey in Portrait of a Lady). In her acceptance speech, Binoche could not have been more gracious as she exclaimed that she expected to Bacall to win, and that she thought Bacall really deserved to win. That kind of heartfelt tribute always sounds better with a lilting French accent. Oui. You can find the clip on YouTube.

So, on what should have been her big night, Lauren Bacall, a towering figure from Hollwood’s Golden Age still fighting the good fight, was upstaged–the bridesmaid to Binoche’s bride. Oh sure, several years later Bacall won an Oscar of her own, an honorary one for a lifetime of work, but in accordance with new Academy policy regarding non-competitive awards, Bacall was not feted during the annual televised ceremony, per se, lest 14 year old boys fidget and change the channel. Instead, Bacall’s tribute came a few months prior, November of 2009, and was recapped at the actual Oscar bash the following year.

Bogie-and-Lauren-Bacall-in-To-Have-and-Have-Not

Obligatory shot of Bogie (left) and Bacall (right)

I kind of feel the same way about Bacall’s passing last month, almost a month shy of what would have been her 90th birthday. Unfortunately for Bacall’s family, friends, and fans, her death was overshadowed by the shocking news of Oscar winner Robin Williams’s suicide a day earlier. Oh sure, Bacall’s demise generated plenty of press though not nearly the same magnitude as Williams’s untimely end. The same thing happened five years ago when 1970s bombshell Farrah Fawcett passed away the same day as longtime music sensation Michael Jackson. Fawcett died the morning of June 25 after a brave battle with cancer, but reports of Jackson’s death–under mysterious circumstances–later the same day grabbed more and more headlines though, of course, none of this should be a contest.

My own life has been remarkably difficult this year due to a series of family accidents, horrific illnesses, and, yes, death. I felt pressed to write about Willams, and I wrote as much as I thought I could under difficult circumstances, so I feel okay about that even though I thought I would add a few more pics and reminiscences. Then, I started writing about Bacall, and when I couldn’t be as timely about it as I would’ve liked, I skipped it. The same thing happened when Shirley Temple, James Garner, and Paul Mazursky passed, and I hate that, but my journalistic–as well as life–training tells me that timing is everything. Even a blog needs to be timely, so here I am trying to write about Bacall yet again on the eve of what appears to be a Bacall celebration this week on Turner Classic Movies, timed, precisely, to mark the occasion of her birthday: a marathon on Monday, 09/15, and Tuesday, 09/16 (her actual b’day).

Here’s what I wrote but never finished though I always intended to write about losing the Oscar and being overshadowed in death by Williams…

Poster - How to Marry a Millionaire_02

^ Cinemascope was one of many film features invented during the 1950s to compete with the booming TV medium. Whereas movies up to that point had been presented in a more technically square format (even majestic Gone with the Wind), widescreen presentations, such as Cinemascope, gave moviegoers an experience not easily replicated at home. How to Marry a Millionaire, in which Bacall (r) co-starred with Betty Grable (l) and top-billed Marilyn Monroe (center) was one of the first widescreen releases. It came out the same year as The Robe, which was released first though technically completed after How to Marry a Millionaire wrapped. This movie is one of my most pleasing of so-called guilty pleasures. I will watch it anytime I come across it while clicking through TV channels; moreover, I can put it in the machine on a Friday night and watch it multiple times over the weekend (sometimes back-to-back), and Bacall, as much as I love Monroe, is the main reason. As model Schatze Page, she’s so remarkably self-possessed that it’s hard not to get caught up in her bravado even when she’s clueless and self-defeating. Even more amazing is how young Bacall was at the time: 29 and counting. Of course, this whole thing is a fantasy that has nothing to do with real life. It’s also best kept in context as it does women no favors by painting them as single minded gold-diggers. On the other hand, reality TV shows us that there are still plenty of women ready to play the same role even though we presumably live in more progressive, more enlightened times.

Lauren Bacall, nee Betty Jane Perske, rose to full-fledged star status with her first film role, opposite Humphrey Bogart in 1944’s To Have and Have Not; she was barely 20 years old at the time, a New York model and stage actress, but there was something irresistibly worldly, self-possessed about her as though she could have only been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter.  She wasn’t beautiful like Hedy Lamarr, Ingrid Bergman, or Rita Hayowrth, yet she was stunningly good looking, but, more importantly, she knew how to play to the camera. “The Look,” she became known as thanks to a signature pose: chin down, leonine gaze directed upward, all framed by a silken, side-parted cascade of hair. And then there was that voice: unmistakably deep and sultry, the aural equivalent of a martini–a gin martini–with cracked ice. As To Have and Have Not‘s “Slim” (a nod to Slim Keith, director Howard Hawks’s  equally worldly wife), Bacall made a brazen pass at Bogie’s character when she purred, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.” And, no, she was not dubbed by Andy Williams when she sang in the film, contrary to legend.

Here’s where I’ve resumed…

Bogie was hooked. The two were married a year later, this in spite of a 25 year age difference. She was Bogie’s baby, all right, and they made three more films together: The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo, the latter of which inspired a hit song by Bertie Higgins in the early 1980s: “We had it all / Just like Bogie and Bacall / Starring in our own late late show / Sailin’ away to Key Largo.”  So closely was Bacall identified with Bogie that her character even cracked wise about a fascination with older men, beginning with Bogart’s Oscar winning The African Queen, in 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire, co-starring Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. Btw, all the Bogie-Bacall movies as well as How to Marry a Millionaire will be featured in the TCM event.

charlotte-rampling-nars

I’ve always thought that smoldering Charlotte Rampling, with her sharp cheekbones and husky voice, was her generation’s answer to Bacall as though she were specially designed for film noir. and that includes 1975’s Farewell, My Lovely with Robert Mitchum stepping into the role of Philip Marlowe–made famous by Humphrey Bogart in The Bg Sleep. She’s got “the look.”  I’m thrilled that Rampling continues to be a formidable presence. At 68, she was recently announced as the new face of Francois Nars cosmetics. If you haven’t caught up with her in 2003’s wickedly suspenseful Swimming Pool, you surely must.

After Bogart died in 1957, Bacall, a young mom with two children, had to reinvent herself and eventually did so by going back to the theatre, to New York, where she began. Oh, she continued to act in movies, but Hollywood didn’t know what to do with her….yet. She had to prove that she was more than Bogie’s baby.

She starred as a lothario reincarnated as a woman in Goodbye Charlie, a so-so play that nonetheless proved popular enough to warrant a film adaptation starring–not Bacall, the bridesmaid–Debbie Reynolds. A bit later, Bacall enjoyed a true Broadway success when she played the dental assistant roped into a harebrained scheme with her boss to fool the dentist’s jilted mistress [3]  into believing that Bacall is/was really his wife. Something like that. The play ran for almost three years, and Hollywood came a knockin’ but not as far as Bacall was concerned. She lost her role–the proverbial late bloomer–to Ingrid Bergman of all people–Bogie’s Casablanca co-star. Again, always a bridemaid…

Still, Bacall eventually scored two huge Broadway smashes. First, she secured the role of  aging tart-tongued diva Margo Channing in 1970’s Applause, the musical version of 1950’s smash, Oscar winning All About Eve. Against incredible odds, Bacall put her own stamp on a role made legendary by no less than Bette Davis. Bacall won her first Tony, and the show won a spate of other honors including Best Musical (the show also featured a Tony nominated turn by future TV regular Bonnie Franklin who actually sang the rollicking title tune). She went on to recreate the role in a special televised production and earned an Emmy nod in the process.  Bacall proved that Applause was no fluke when she won her second Tony for Woman of the Year in a role originated by Katherine Hepburn. Bacall’s competition that year included no less than Linda Ronstadt in Joseph Papp’s massively popular restaging of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance.

Kathleen Turner

Kathleen Turner hasn’t had a powerful leading role in a hit movie in more than a decade, but back in the 1980s, she was one of the most bankable actresses in the biz, and performances in neo-noir Body Heat and mafia themed black comedy Prizzi’s Honor clearly highlighted her Bacall-esque appeal. She’s got “the look” too.

Bacall’s Broadway success actually ignited renewed interest in Hollywood, and soon she was in front of cameras again in Agatha Christie’s classic star-studded whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express (directed by Sidney Lumet, 1974), luxuriating in her role as a colorful, seen-it-all, wealthy widow. She also attracted the attention of maverick director Robert Altman who featured her in a pair of films, HealtH (1980) and Pret-a-Porter (aka Ready to Wear, 1994). Just as the curtain rose for Woman of the Year, Bacall appeared on film as a Broadway star in The Fan, opposite James Garner with whom she shared the screen, both big and small, on multiple occasions. She also played the female lead in John Wayne’s final film, The Shootist (1976).

Bacall is a legend, and legends don’t die easily. Besides her incredible body of work in film, TV and theatre, she has influenced generations with her good looks, style, and passion. Not only was she immortalized in Higgins’s tune, Madonna referred to her in the classic 1990’s dance track “Vogue.”  Now, all of the luminaries mentioned in that classic ditty have passed, but, of course, they still live as style icons, and who or what is more iconic than “The Look”?

Thanks, Betty….

Bacall marathon at Turner Classic Movies: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/movie-news.html?id=1025725

More on Cinemascope at Widescreen Mueum: http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/wingcs3.htm

[3] Brenda Vaccaro, born in New York but raised in Dallas, played the mistress in the Broadway production of Cactus Flower and earned a Tony nod, as Best Featured Actress, for her efforts. She also lost missed the chance to recreate her role for the movie version, losing the role to rising star Goldie Hawn, who nabbed the Academy’s Best Supporting Actress statuette.

Mother: The Next Big Short*

10 Sep

I sometimes think that if a good movie gets made these days, it must be an accident. I mean, it must be a miracle. Of course, money is the biggest issue. Even the most low budget offering still costs thousands if not millions of dollars, and there are no guarantees that backers will ever see a return on their investments. Also, distribution–getting the finished film into theatres–is a racket unto itself. Of course, social media have made marketing more accessible than ever as evidenced by the whole Sharknado phenomenon. The true independent filmmakers often take enormous risks to get their visions onscreen, and if/when that happens, well, yes, it’s a miracle. Miracles are good.

Mother poster designed by Jonas de Geer

Poster for Franz Maria Quitt’s short film, Mother (2014), designed by Jonas De Geer, Clockwise from top: Darlene Cates, Ryan Jonze, Alexander Rolinksi, and Kaylyn Scardefield. I think Quitt’s movie is exquisite on its own terms though I’ll also allow that my feelings are complicated by watching my own mother’s months of suffering and failing health–and, yes, even the passing of comic legend Joan Rivers (barely a year older than my own mom).

Of course, the big Hollywood studios have the resources to make all of the above possible, but the big Hollywood studios are no longer necessarily in the business of making movies–though every now and then one slips through the cracks. Look no farther than this past summer. One report after another explains that this past summer was probably the worst, at least domestically, in eight years, seventeen if you factor for inflation…but why do we need to factor for inflation? See, the studios are most interested in turning a buck, and movies are no longer just movies. They’re ground zero for a host of ancillary markets, mainly theme park attractions and video games, and that’s why so many of this past summer’s movies seemed more like video games. Of course, the U.S. is no longer Hollywood’s primary market, and many of these big budget action blockbusters actually perform better overseas than they do here, but this is not really news though it is the new business model.

On the other hand, I don’t want to pooh-pooh the studios too much. They might be corrupt, but that’s all they are, and every now and then a movie that’s fresh, inventive, and scaled to the human experience emerges, and if it hits with audiences, well, that’s a beautiful thing. We saw a handful of those last year. Gravity, from Warner Bros., comes to mind as does 12 Years a Slave, an indie released through 20th Century Fox.

At any rate, I recently found myself treated to a remarkable–dare I say miraculous–movie, a 30 minute short from actor-turned-first time writer-director Franz Maria Quitt.  Entitled Mother, Quitt’s film tells two almost interlocking stories about children–both young and old–and what has to be, for most of us, the most complicated relationship  of our lives–the one we share with our mothers: women who almost always know (or think they know) what’s best for us, including learning when to let go. In one scenario, a DJ living on the fringe takes a road trip with the son he barely knows, resulting in a little truth-telling about mothers and who abandoned whom. The other story concerns a female nurse, the DJ’s neighbor, and her own mom, a once glamorous model now all but bed-ridden after a devastating loss. As Quitt is a former actor, it’s hardly a surprise that he coaxes such persuasive performances from his small cast, most of whom are unknown to mainstream filmgoers; however, there is at least one familiar face in the cast, and that is the remarkable Forney-based actress Darlene Cates.

Cates first came to prominence as the indomitable Bonnie “Mama” Grape in director Lasse Hallstrom’s Texas-made What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a whopping 21 years ago. Released without a whole lot of fanfare—outside of Texas, that is–back in the day, Hallstrom’s film didn’t exactly set box office records, but it was well reviewed and helped young Leonardo DiCaprio score an Oscar nod in his breakthrough as the Grape family’s mentally challenged sibling, Arnie. In a stellar cast that included Johnny Depp, long before his run as a box-office titan, (former) Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen, one-time Oscar nominee Juliet Lewis, as well as the likes of Crispin Glover and (future Oscar nominee) John C. Reilly [4], one Darlene Cates, an untested actress from Forney TX caught critics and moviegoers’ attention with a performance packed with raw emotion, holding nothing back either in the scenes requiring her to assert her incredible will against the town’s authorities, or the tender moments with her family in all its bewildering dysfunction.  Such was the magnitude of Cates’ s performance that Paramount Pictures (the releasing studio) actually campaigned for her as a Best Supporting Actress possibility though, alas, the nomination never materialized.

Dreamworks-The-100-Foot-Journey

Just as Darlene Cates is onscreen once again, her Gilbert Grape director Lasse Hallstrom is also delighting audiences with The Hundred-Foot Journey, a joint venture from media titans Steven Spielberg (Dreamworks) and Oprah Winfrey (Harpo). Hallstrom is no stranger to whetting moviegoers’ appetites, per 2000’s Oscar nomiated Chocolat. His newest makes effective use of the great–and Oscar winning–Helen Mirren (left and bottom right) who hits all the right notes, and then some, as a humorless restauranteur. This role needs all the spark it can get, and Mirren delivers; however, for me, the real star of the show is the amazing, American born actor Manish Dayal (left and lower right w/Mirren) who shines as an eager chef who wants to bridge French-Indian cultural gaps with fine cuisine. I enjoyed the movie  immensely and like to think of it as a food fetishist’s travelogue with a shout-out to Romeo and Juliet, delivered with all the subtlety of French perfume commercial. Yep, that about covers it. Strong but definitely satisfying. The movie also features the lovely Charlotte Le Bon (far left and upper right).

Since then, Cates has worked selectively as her health permits though she receives plenty of offers. I personally found her 1994 performance as a woman accused of murdering her husband in David Kelly’s idiosyncratic, Emmy winning Picket Fences even more powerful than her Grape turn. Her other credits include Touched by an Angel and the cultish Wolf Girl, also known as Blood Moon. A nifty trick that one, what with location footage in Romania and selected interiors–including those featuring Cates–shot at Las Colinas in Irving. What I like most about Cates as a performer is her ability to do more with less. Her acting isn’t fussy or mannered, but it’s real, and it’s real because she hones in on the emotional truth of a scene and nails it in ways both little and big. Beautiful. Again, she’s very good at registering a lot even when she’s perfectly still.

The role in Mother was written with Cates in mind, but director Quitt had his work cut out for him to make it happen, tracking her down through a network of sources only after auditioning a handful of actresses in his home base of New York.  His experience mirrors that of Lasse Hallstrom who reportedly had a small handful of high profile actresses practically throwing themselves at him when he was casting Gilbert Grape. Hallstrom didn’t find what he was looking for until Cates’ screen test, a serendipitous turn of events that began when TV talk show host Sally Jesse Raphael interviewed Cates (then unknown) about her struggle with weight.

A few years ago, Cates’s health took a dramatic turn, but as seen in Mother, she has rebounded nicely as she fearlessly inhabits the dark interiors of a woman who can barely look her own daughter in the eye. That daughter, by the way, is played by Kaylyn Scardefield in a beautiful performance of surprising economy. Another standout is young Alexander Rolinski, startlingly good as the young boy whose frustration about his seemingly irresponsible dad turns to something more akin to understanding and forgiveness during their time together. The dad is effectively played by Ryan Jonze whose credits include the likes of 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, Kings, and Sordid Things. Director Quitt makes a cameo, and DeAnna Dugan briefly appears in a key supporting role.

Props to Quitt for such a splendid debut effort, one with not only well acted moments of emotional honesty, but scene after scene of beautifully composed shots, showing a lot of maturity and resourcefulness given the constraints of indie filmmaking. Texturally, this film reminds me somewhat of Zach Braf’s splendid directorial debut, Garden State (2004) Of course, Quitt is aided in all of this by co-story developer Natalie Johnson, cinematographer Saro Varjabedian (w/assistance from Lee Peterkin), and editor Filip K. Kasperaszek. This is another instance of a work seamlessly combining footage shot in the New York/New Jersey area along with scenes filmed in Addison and Forney. Amazing.  Even more amazing, apparently,  is the road trip the crew took in a 15 passenger van from New York to Texas to work with Cates. Now, that’s true indie filmmaking.

Currently, a DVD, including a behind-the-scenes documentary, is in the works and will hopefully be available for distribution soon. In the meantime, Quitt has begun the arduous task of submitting his property for consideration in such film festivals as Sundance and South by Southwest.  I can’t imagine that he won’t succeed because his movie, at only 30 minutes, seems incredibly realized, that is, finished, polished; however, the business of film festivals is, well, a business, and it’s all so very competitive, but the rewards can be oh-so-sweet for those who believe in miracles.

*Funny story about how I arrived at this title.  As I was writing this piece, I was also watching an episode of Shark Tank featuring a delightful (and quite successful) 12 year old entrepreneur who boasted to the judges that he was the NBT, the next big thing. I thought it was funny and liked the idea of contrasting “big” and “short,” as in short film, certainly a better option than making a pun of the word ‘mother’ as in “Thank You Franz, May I Have a Mother,” right? 

Soliel Film presents Franz Maria Quitt’s Mother (2014): http://www.mothershortfilm.com/

Hollywood Reporter: “Box Office Crash: What Caused Hollywood’s Miserable Summer” by Pamela McClintock (Sept. 1, 2014)  –  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/box-office-crash-what-caused-728367

CNN Money: “Summer bummer: Hollywood suffer big slump” by Jesse Solomon (August 1 2014) – http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/01/investing/summer-box-office-slump/

[4] Here we go: Steenburgen won Best Supporting Actress for 1980’s Melvin and Howard; Juliette Lewis was a supporting nominee for 1991’s Cape Fear; John C. Reilly had a breakthrough year in 2002, landing roles in three Best Picture nominees–Gangs of New York, The Hours, and Chicago, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Alas, Robin Williams: What Dreams…

12 Aug
moscow-on-the-hudson-williams-325

My favorite Williams’ performance is in 1984’s Moscow on the Hudson, the late director Paul Mazursky’s slice of life about a Russian circus musician who decides in the midst of New York’s landmark Bloomngdale’s department store to defect to the U.S. . The performance was, for Williams, relatively restrained, showing a lot of heart and sustaining a plausible Russian accent. He earned a Golden Globe nod, but it wasn’t the right vehicle to catch the Academy’s attention, not in an extremely competitive year that included such also-rans as Victor Banerjee (A Passage in India), Harry Dean Stanton (Paris, Texas), Robert Redford (The Natural), and Steve Martin (All of Me).

Oh dear. Robin Williams has died at the age of 63, an “apparent suicide.”  I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Williams’ talent and his impact on pop-culture are almost too big to be addressed in a mere blog piece. Funny, for all we know about Williams there is still much more that we don’t know, his incredibly manic and giving public persona serving as defense to mask or keep at bay a tumble of secrets and insecurities. Yes, we know that he dealt with addiction, but the full-scope of what troubled him remains much a mystery.

What we know is that he was born into an affluent family–mom a former model, dad a high ranking Ford executive–educated at Julliard (where he roomed with Christopher Reeve), made his first major public splash as the alien Mork from Ork in the smash 1978 sitcom Mork and Mindy, becoming a household name in the process.  From there, he transitioned to big screen stardom in 1980 with Robert Altman’s live action, quasi-musical version of the old Popeye cartoon. He quickly followed with the big screen adaptation of John Irving’s The World According to Garp though he did not garner attention equal to that of his Oscar nominated co-stars, Glenn Close and John Lithgow. His big screen career was filled with amazing highs, including such monster box office hits as Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Aladdin (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), and Patch Adams (1998), along with a host of accolades among them: four Oscar nominations, three for Best Actor and, finally, a win in the Best Supporting Actor category for 1997’s Good Will Hunting.

Williams also deserves to be remembered for his humanitarian efforts, which included co-hosting, with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldeberg,  a series of Comic Relief USA fundraisers to help alleviate the struggles of the homeless.

His Best Actor Oscar nominations are as follows:
good-morning-vietnam-visore

^ 1. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

DEAD-POETS-SOCIETY

^ 2. Dead Poets Society (1989)

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L- R: Williams, Mercedes Ruehl (Best Supporting Actress winner), Jeff Bridges, and Amanda Plummer

^ 3. The Fisher King (1991)

Good Will

^ Finally,  Williams’s Oscar victory came with his supporting turn as a therapist opposite Matt Damon (r) in Good Will Hunting (1997)

 

I will be updating this piece throughout the day as time permits.

On Golden Fonda

1 Aug

listen2uraunt:

Turner Classic Movies is running Jane Fonda movies all day (Friday, August 1) as a prelude to a repeat of the summer’s earlier AFI tribute to the two-time Academy award winning actress, producer, activist, and feminist icon. As such, I feel the need to repost this piece as well. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Confessions of a Movie Queen:

I’m rushing to complete this piece before TNT airs Jane Fonda’s American Film Institute Life Achievement Award celebration sometime this month; the tribute was taped less than a week ago. I’ll probably skip the TV program. Oh, I’ve watched these annual shindigs from time to time going all the way back to the 70s when Bette Davis, James Cagney, Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock were honored, but for some reason the last several tributes have seemed extremely edited, to force the fun factor, and that bothers me. Besides, I don’t need the AFI, necessarily, to remind me how much I love the films of Jane Fonda or to help me remember my favorites.

When I was a wee thing, I thought Jane Fonda too gorgeous for words. Truthfully, if I saw any of her movies at that time, it would have likely been Barefoot in the Park (1967), co-starring the…

View original 4,924 more words

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