Archive | May, 2013

Cannes 2013: Where Blue is Warm…and Golden

27 May
Blue_is_the_Warmest_Color_poster

French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche is no stranger to laurels, having previously earned top honors for The Secret of the Grain (2007) and Games of Love and Chance (2003) at France’s annual Cesar Awards.

Here’s an update from the Festival de Cannes, which just wrapped for the season. Steven Spielberg headed this year’s jury, which also included Daniel Auteuil, Vidya Balan (India), Naomi Kawase (Japan),  Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee, Christian Mungiu (Romania), Lynne Ramsay (Great Britain), and Christoph Waltz.

  • Palme D’or (Golden Palm) for Best Picture: La vie d’Adèle Chaptire 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Colour) directed by Abdellitif Kechiche (France)
  • Grand Prix: Inside Llewyn Davis directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (U.S.A.)
  • Award for Best Director: Amat Escalante for Heli (Mexico)
  • Best Actress: Bérénice Bejo for Les Passe (The Past, France)
  • Best Actor: Bruce Dern (Nebraska, U.S.A.)
  • Best Screenplay: Tia Zhu Ding (A Touch of Sin) by Jia Zhangke (China)
  • Caméra d’or (Golden Camera for Best First Film): Ilo Ilo directed by Anthony Chen (Singapore)
  • Jury Prize:  Soshite Chichi Ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son) directed by Kore-Eda Hirokazu (Japan)
  • Vulcain Prize for an artist technician, awarded by the C.S.T., 2013: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun for Grigris (Chad, France)

Last year’s big winner, Amour, went on to become a major Oscar contender with 5 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Haneke), and Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva), ultimately claiming the award for Best Foreign Language Film.  I dare say Blue is the Warmest Colour will be met as enthusiastically in this country. Oh sure, it’s almost three hours long, but that’s just the least of it. Sure, there is reportedly a lot of–graphic–lesbian sex, and that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker either, but audiences might take issue with the sexual relationship between a 17 year old girl and a woman at least a decade older. Yikes!  Again, I don’t know how how well this will play in the states.

On the other hand, I’m definitely looking forward to the latest from the Coens, which examines the wonderful world of folk music–as only the Coens can–starring Oscar Isaac as the title character, along with F. Murray Abraham, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan; the latter also appeared in The Great Gatsby, the fest’s splashy opener which apparently got lost in the shuffle. The Coens, btw,  scored a major Cannes coup back in 1991 when Barton Fink became the first film to win honors for Best Picture (reportedly a unanimous choice), Best Director, and Best Screenplay. The duo hasn’t been at Cannes, as I understand it, since 2007’s No Country for Old Men, which later dominated the Oscars.

Bruce Dern

Bruce Dern meets the press to discuss his latest, Nebraska, at the Cannes Film Festival. For some reason, he was not on hand to receive his Best Actor award even though he had clearly been at the fest at some point, so director Alexander Payne stepped in to accept the award for him.

Oh, and what great news for Bruce Dern. No.1: He hasn’t had a leading role in high-profile film in several years, so good for him. Of course, he was recently seen in Django Unchained; however, in a career that includes the likes of That Championship Season, for which he walked away with Best Actor accolades at the 1983 Berlin Film Festival,  his sole Oscar nomination is for his supporting role in 1978’s Coming Home. Some of Dern’s other lauded films include Middle Age Crazy (a Canadian Genie Award nod) and Drive, He Said (Best Actor-National Society of Film Critics). No.2: Dern’s latest is  a B& W entry from writer-director Alexander Payne whose films have proven wonderful showcases–and awards bait–for such actors as Kathy Bates (About Schmidt), former Texan Thomas Haden Church (Sideways), George Clooney (The Descendants), the still sadly under-used Virginia Madsen (Sideways), and Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt)–not to mention the likes of Laura Dern, Bruce’s daughter,  whose fearless performance in Payne’s Citizen Ruth generated lots of buzz without Oscar recognition–as did Reese Witherspoon’s nifty turn in Election. Oh, and speaking of Mulligan and Gatsby, Brucie also appeared as Tom Buchanan in the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. I guess all things are connected. I’m sure both Dern’s and the Coens’ latest will not have any trouble finding domestic distribution.

Meanwhile, if the name Bérénice Bejo sounds familiar, it’s because the French actress scored a Best Supporting Actress nomination for The Artist (2011), which began its award ascendancy at Cannes also. Bejo was a last minute replacement in La Passe for Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (La Vien Rose), so, again, good for Bejo whom I just learned dubbed the voice of Merida in the French release of Pixar’s recent Brave.

Oh, and keep your eye out for Golden Camera winner Ilo Ilo. Don’t forget, last year’s winner, Beasts of the Southern Wild, became a summertime critical sensation as well as a major player in the Oscar race, what with nods for Best Picture, Best Director (Benh Zeitlin) and Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis). According to recent reports, Ilo Ilo‘s Anthony Chen now holds the distinction of being the first Singaporean filmmaker to win an award at Cannes. Nice.

Can you believe it? This is my 100th post in just under two years.

Thanks for your consideration….

Festival de Cannes: http://www.festival-cannes.fr/en/archives/awardCompetition.html

Cannes Jury Article in Variety:

http://variety.com/2013/film/news/nicole-kidman-christopher-waltz-ang-lee-among-cannes-jury-members-1200410650/

Singapore’s Anthony ChenIlo makes Cannes history with Ilo Ilo:

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/ilo-ilo-is-first-s-pore-film-to-win-at-c/687760.html

Pitchin’

19 May
pitch-perfect-contest

^ The cast of Pitch Perfect- Left to Right: Rebel Wilson, Ester Dean, Anna Camp, Alexis Knapp, Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, and Hana Mae Lee. For a movie as generally well-received as this one was, it was not shown a whole lotta love during the year-end awards derby. Most of the accolades, when they appeared, were for Wilson though the film as a whole was up for a People’s Choice award.  Why not a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy or, even better, a Best Ensemble nod at the Screen Actors Guild Award–or is there a limit on many musicals can be nominated per year? Thanks a lot, Les Misérables.

 

At last. I started writing about this movie several weeks ago, and I have gotten sidetracked more times than I care to admit. I feel great about posting this piece at last, but I also feel behind the times as well as though I am the last person to arrive at the party…

Maybe the whole thing is just generational, but when it comes to female bonding comedies, I’m generally more 9 to 5 (1980) and First Wives Club (1996) than I am Bridesmaids (2011).  Funny that. When the first two movies were released, I was younger than the women on screen–significantly younger. On the other hand, I’m about a decade older than the top-billed stars of Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. I adore Kristen Wiig. I adore Rudolph too, of course, but I think Wiig may very well be the most fearless performer to ever grace the cast of Saturday Night Live, emphasis on the word “live.” (Can someone actually be “most fearless”? Hmmmmm….) My point is that as much as I love Wiig, and as thrilled as I was that she earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing (w/Annie Mumolo) Bridesmaids,  I pretty much hated that film, and I’ve never made any bones about it. You can check out my 2011/12 Oscar coverage to verify because it’s all there. Again, maybe it’s generational.

Oh sure, I chuckled off and on during the movie, mostly when Best Supporting Actress nominee Melissa McCarthy was onscreen. Obviously, Wiig had some inspired moments as well, but the movie pushed  the whole gross-out meter to a level that left me more stupefied than amused. I won’t go so far as to say I was offended because I think “offended” is an easy crutch for people who simply don’t like something, and I don’t buy into that.  I do wish, on the other hand, that I had never seen parts of Bridesmaids, and when I say “parts,”  I’m referring specifically to the sequence set in the bridal salon. If you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I mean, and you might have laughed yourself silly; after all, the movie made a whopping $169 million in this country alone–against a budget of 32 mil. If you haven’t seen it, you might consider yourself lucky.  Someone would have to pay me a lot of money to watch that movie again.

Anyway, my distaste for Bridesmaids pretty much fueled my apprehension about last fall’s  female bonding comedy, Pitch Perfect. I think Universal, which released both titles, wanted to capitalize on the success of the former in its marketing campaign for the latter, mostly by featuring actress Rebel Wilson prominently in the trailer. Aussie Wilson, a zaftig blonde with wicked timing, made a vivid impression in Bridesmaids playing a character,  one of Wiig’s roommates, who was more than a little creepy. Likewise, I seem to recall, and I might be mistaken, something to the effect of,  “From the same studio that brought you Bridesmaids, …” in the Pitch Perfect pre-release hype.  At any rate, I was originally content to skip Pitch Perfect. I expressed my reservation to a friend, especially the part about not wanting to see spewing vomit–and other bodily fluids as in Bridesmaids. This friend did nothing to reassure me that wasn’t the case.  Indeed, I was told that there was indeed spewing, so that was all I needed, or so I thought.

annak-blog

^ Anna Kendrick: Besides Pitch Perfect, she was also recently seen, along with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena , in Final Watch. She also contributed voice over work to the Oscar nominated animated film ParaNorman. Kendrick earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 2009’s Up in the Air starring George Clooney. She  became one of the youngest ever Tony nominees–for Featured Actress in a Musical–when she appeared on Broadway in Holiday; she was 12 at the time. Her other credits include the Twilight films and the indie Camp (2003), in which she slayed Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch” and for which she also scored accolades, such as Independent Spirit Award for “Best Debut Performance.”

Eventually, more and more of my friends, people I trusted–and people with whom I believed shared a certain taste level–were seeing Pitch Perfect. Then, I decided it might  be worth a look.  My plan was to see it when it hit the second-run house in my neighborhood (to call it a $1.00 house anymore would no longer be correct). It played there for several weeks, and just when one of my friends and I decided it would make a great b’day flick for her (toward the end of January), it vanished. Instead, my friend and I saw Broken City, and I rented Pitch Perfect on DVD as soon as I had the chance.  Now, I can’t believe it took so long. I’m sorry I missed it on “the big screen,” as the old saying goes (or used to go), so allow me to share if you have not yet caught up with delightful flick.

Briefly, Pitch Perfect follows the women in college a capella group from one year to the next as it undergoes a change in leadership and the arrival of a gaggle of new students who just don’t quite the fit expectation of slim, conventionally pretty girls who can be easily coaxed into singing the same old songs time after time. That’s not all. These women face an uphill struggle in that they are an anomaly in a male dominated field; moreover, they attend the same school as the top ranked male group, and the “Bellas,” as they are known, have to live down a humiliating showing at an early competition, and when I say humiliating, I mean a disaster of epic proportions.  The key players in this tale include Anna Kendrick, both a former Oscar and Tony nominee,  as Beca, the nominal lead,  a headstrong newcomer who’d rather be a music producer or a d.j. rather than a student at the same university where her father teaches; the aforementioned Rebel Wilson as a Tasmanian transplant who calls herself “Fat Amy”;  Anna Camp (previously seen in The Help, among others) as Aubrey, the uptight priss of the group who, unfortunately, doesn’t do well with stress, and Brittany Snow (red-tressed in a stunning departure from the blonde locks she sported on American Dreams and the 2007 edition of Hairspray) as Chloe, Aubrey’s noticeably cooler bff. Other significant roles are played by Ester Dean, as a none too subtle lesbian named Cynthia-Rose, and Hana Mae Lee, as the barely audible Lilly Onakuramara.

Rebel-Wilson-Pitch-Perfect-Interview-Video

^ Rebel Wilson (Fat Amy): Wilson recently won an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance. She also scored a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, and, well good for her. I guess. I happen to think she would have been better positioned as a supporting actress contender since she is not the true lead of Pitch Perfect. My belief  is she would have come much closer to scoring an Oscar nod if the Universal execs had not overplayed their hand on her behalf. She is currently onscreen in the hit Pain and Gain starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johsnon (aka “The Rock’). Her sitcom pilot, Super Fun Night, has just been picked up by ABC for the 2013/2014 season.

Before I elaborate on what it is I like about Pitch Perfect, allow me to go ahead and list its shortcomings. First, there’s not much originality here as bits and pieces play like, well, a mix-tape of loads of other shows. There’s TV’s Glee, of course, with its backstage look at a high school choir. Again, there’s Rebel Wilson and the whole Bridesmaids connection, including at least one major gross-out moment. The campy cheerleading competition comedy Bring It On shares a couple of plot points (the new leader who struggles to make her own mark; a high-stakes finale) and character types (the edgy chick with “attitude” who has to be talked into joining the group).  It’s also impossible to ignore the love shown to the films of John Hughes, especially The Breakfast Club (like Bring It On and Pitch Perfect, another Universal release). Likewise, as a friend of my observed, the scenes with Elizabeth Banks (who also doubles as the film’s producer) and  John Michael Higgis, as a pair of bickering contest commentators, echo a similar dynamic between Jim Piddock and Fred Willard in Christopher Guest’s Best in Show; indeed, the Guest association is hard to miss since Higgis is a veteran of the celebrated  “mockumentary” filmmaker’s repertory company.  (The screenplay, by the way, is credited to Kay Cannon and is derived the non-fiction book of the same name by Mickey Rapkin.)

There are other points that give me pause. I think the movie traffics in unflattering stereotypes, especially regarding the lesbian character and Asians. Dean’s Ester Rose is the butt of a few too many gags. Plus, she suffers a potentially serious issue, not necessarily related to her sexuality,  that is tossed aside rather casually after it is used as a punchline. Neither of the two prominently featured Asian characters, Hana Mae Lee as spooky Lilly and Jinhee Jhoung as freshman Beca’s humor-impaired roommate, seem less than fully human though at least the former has the advantage of a few priceless non-sequiturs, but close listening skills are definitely required. Finally, I’ll admit that as funny as the movie is, and it’s often quite funny, that there are probably as many lines that mis-fire as there are those that hit–and a lot of those are spoken by Wilson’s Fat Amy though the actress’s lip-smacking delivery never falters.

pitch-perfect-gallery

^ Anna Camp (Aubrey): This blonde haired, blue eyed actress’s WASPy looks made her a natural to play one of the snooty Junior League types in 2011’s Oscar nominated adaptation of The Help; she’s also a veteran of True Blood and Mad Men.

Now, what do I like so much about this movie, especially in comparison to Bridesmaids?  See, besides the over-the-top gross-out moments in Wiig’s offering, there was also something un-nerving about the characters. They were pathetic, and it was disturbing to see grown women act like, well, children.  Here is where I need to clarify:  I can’t recall whether the ages of the characters (in Bridesmaids) are ever mentioned, but I do know that Wiig and Rudolph were in their late thirties at the time of the film’s release; McCarthy was already forty (per the IMDb). I hate it anymore that so many adult women in TV and movies resemble girls–petty, immature, irresponsible, frivolous, and flighty–and this is a trend I  actually began noticing 20 years ago.

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^ When Elizabeth Banks isn’t being mistaken for late night talk show host Chelsea Handler, she’s one of Hollywood’s busiest and most versatile actresses with such credits as The Hunger Games’s Effie Trinket, portraying Laura Bush in Oliver Stone’s W., and guest appearances on 30 Rock and Modern Family.  Banks originally signed on, along with her husband and business partner Max Handleman, to produce Pitch Perfect without a plan to actually appear in the flick; however, after Kristen Wiig (and possibly Amy Poehler) were unavailable to play the part of daffy commentator Gail, Banks decided that assuming the role herself made better business sense than searching for a replacement as she was already with the company on location, thereby minimizing expenses.  She’s delightful in her few scenes, of course, but I also just love her for working so hard to provide such a wonderful showcase for a great group of younger, up and coming actresses. Brava, Elizabeth.

In contrast, the characters in Pitch Perfect are young women who are trying to find, or forge, their identities as adults, and I think that’s touching. The bulk of this idea is played out in the storylines of Kendrick’s Becca and Camp’s Aubrey, both of whom are trying to navigate their own paths in spite of some familiar obstacles:  one has a dad who is a little too close for comfort in addition to a boyfriend whose best intentions are often mis-read as a result of the young woman’s dad-related ambivalence; the other woman has a dad whose standards are so high that it has affected her on multiple levels. (One of her dad’s favorite quotes is, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of Kuwait.”) Furthermore, even within the group, these two women specifically deal with attempts to make their marks. Becca is the new girl who bucks convention; Aubrey is the leader who is burdened with both  living up to her predecessors and living down her very public disaster. Of course, these issues are not addressed with a great deal of depth, but they, and some of the other scenarios depicted in the film, are quite real for young women, and the actresses (again, starting with Kendrick and Camp) bring a lot of conviction to their roles.

I also like that Snow’s Chloe has such a healthy disposition about her body and sex–oh sure, she still needs to learn a thing or two about boundaries, but, again, she’s young and still learning.  I also think it’s cool that Fat Amy doesn’t back down even when the odds are stacked against her. She just seizes control of any situation and makes it work to her advantage. She will not be silenced or ignored.

Of course, backing up to Snow’s Chloe, I guess her character’s healthy sexuality is contrasted by the cartoonish sexuality of Alexis Knapp’s Staci Conrad, the weakest characterization in the bunch. I guess if there is an upside to Knapp’s character, it is that it in some weird way balances the sexual fixation of Ester Dean’s Cynthia-Rose, thereby showing that just as there are lesbians with strong sexual impulses, there are plenty of hetero girls who behave similarly. Is that a positive message? I can’t say for sure. Luckily, it’s not the primary focus.

^ There are a small handful of men in Pitch Perfect, a couple of whom certainly boast impressive stage credentials. First, is Skylar Astin (above), who plays Becca’s off and on boyfriend, who’s also a member of the school’s unrivaled male acapella group. Astin appeared in the original Broadway cast of the Tony winning Spring Awakening (2006-2007). In the thankless role of Becca’s concerned yet distant dad is Plano’s own John Benjamin Hickey (not pictured), a 2011 Tony winner for Best Featured Actor in the revival of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. Director Jason Moore’s  Broadway credits include the musical Avenue Q., another top Tony winner–for which Moore earned a nod.

You know what else I just love about Pitch Perfect?  I love that it was such a great word-of-mouth hit. Yes, it was generally well-reviewed (no less than David Edelstein of New York included it on his year-end 10 Best List, which I found out about months after the fact), but it was not the box office behemoth that Bridesmaids was. Instead, the $ 17 million production earned a more than respectable, if less than spectacular, 65 million domestically. Not shabby; however, the movie’s real legs were not as evident until it appeared on DVD/Blu-Ray earlier this year. Sales have been so brisk that there have been at least two mentions about it in Entertainment Weekly. Per Universal’s Peter Cramer, the robust home video returns exceed projections based on box office take.  Cramer’s words may very well be among the most refreshingly candid things uttered by a studio head lately.  Oh, and just how brisk are those sales? Again, as reported in EW. as of March, there have been 2.4  million units (DVD/Blu Ray) sold for a whopping 90 million dollars–and counting.  That also includes video-on-demand with Pitch Perfect coming in right behind Universal’s Ted and Bridesmaids, natch.  Once again, those two films were major, major, box office triumphs, so their VOD popularity is fitting and expected. Furthermore, the soundtrack has also sold steadily and has even launched an unlikely hit in Kendrick’s “Cups,” an intriguingly little ditty that lasts only a mere 77 seconds.

I still say that Pitch Perfect should have done a little bit better in the most recent awards derby than it did. I outline some of my main points in the sidebars accompanying many of the pictures in this article.  Besides those considerations, special note should be made of the wonderful team that arranged and/or produced the many musical tracks, re-imagining a bunch of familiar tunes as strictly a capella showpieces.  Nice job, y’all, and another great reason to love Pitch Perfect. Too bad the Academy has currently opted out of the song score and/or adapted score category. Well, it was always a little confusing, I guess.  I also guess that the recent MTV Movie Awards almost, ALMOST correct that shortcoming since the film topped the  “Best Musical Moment” category (the Bellas’ impromptu rendition of “No Diggity”), which also included such crowd-pleasers as Ann Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream”  from Les Misérables and the hunky cast of Magic Mike, including People cover guy Channing Tatum, performing a sexy routine to the campy disco classic, “It’s Raining Men.”

Okay, now comes the bad news. There’s a sequel in the works.  I hate this because Pitch Perfect is, to quote Mary Poppins, “practically perfect,” which means it’s already complete.  Some sequels are worth a look; some even surpass their originals. Most do not. Why mess with perfection?

If you haven’t seen Pitch Perfect yet, maybe this short music video featuring beatbox artist Mike Tompkins, Pitch Perfect cast members (excluding popular Wilson), and a chorus of fans and non-pros will make you reconsider.  The song is “Starships,” originally recorded by Nicki Minaj; I actually like Minaj’s original, but I think this cover-version is pure pop magic. It can brighten my bleakest day, and I think it’s quite a wondrous thing that so many diverse people can be momentarily united by music. Enjoy!

Now, if you like that, go watch the movie. You can thank me later.

Official Elizabeth Banks website: http://elizabethbanks.com/

David Edelstein (New York/NPR) Top 10 of 2012: http://www.vulture.com/2012/11/david-edelstein-top-ten-movies.html

Smith, Grady. “Pitch Perfect Keeps Hitting New High Notes.” Entertainment Weekly. 22 March 2013.

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20683742,00.html

Pitch Perfect sequel: http://insidemovies.ew.com/2013/04/16/pitch-perfect-sequel-2015/

Mia Is Such Sweet Farrow

13 May
FarrowonPeople

Mia Farrow on the cover of People 39 years ago: March 4, 1974.

Quick! Who was the subject of the very first People cover story? Why, it was Mia Farrow, of course. Spring of 1974, a whopping 39 years ago. Don’t ask me how/why I actually remember this, but I do, and I’m right.  Mia is the answer to a trivia question. Btw: K.D. Lang is the first cover story on Entertainment Weekly; Tom Hanks & Dan Ackroyd were the first cover story on Premiere. I remember this. I do not need to look it up online. Anyway, when Farrow was on People, it was part of the promotional push for the lavish adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic The Great Gatsby starring the then hot-hot-hot Robert Redford as the enigmatic Jay Gatsby.  That movie is widely considered a flop though I think its reputation as a stinker has been over-reported, but I won’t go into that except to say that Theoni V. Aldredge deservedly won that year’s Oscar for Best Costumes.  Really, the point of this article is to simply take advantage of all the hype surrounding director Baz Luhrmann’s  super-splashy 3-D version of  Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (number two over the weekend with more than 50 million in ticket sales), in order to pay tribute to Farrow, perhaps the most sadly under-appreciated leading film actress of her generation.

Portrait Of Mia Farrow

The lovely long-haired ingenue of TV’s Peyton Place, already pals with Salvador Dali, would soon marry Frank Sinatra (30 years her senior), hang out with the Beatles and the Maharishi, and make a bold fashion statement–and headlines–by chopping off most of her hair.

Farrow is second-generation Hollywood. Her dad was writer-director John Farrow, a 1956/57 Oscar winner for his Around the World in 80 Days screenplay  (and a Best Director nominee for 1942’s Wake Island); Mia’s mom is lovely Maureen O’Sullivan, perhaps best known as “Jane” from the well-loved Tarzan films (w/Johnny Weissmuller).  Childhood friends included Liza Minnelli, also second-generation Hollywood. Mia’s parents suffered a rocky marriage before John Farrow passed away in early 1963. When she was 18, Mia and her mother not only scored the deal of a lifetime on an apartment overlooking Central Park, they also starred in separate theatrical productions: O’Sullivan in the popular Broadway play Never Too Late (running for over 1,000 performances beginning in 1962), and Farrow in a revival of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Soon enough, Mia was auditioning for the role of Liesl in The Sound of Music, alas not to be, though she hit her early career stride when she was cast in the ingenue role of Allison MacKenzie in the long running prime time TV spin-off of Grace Metalious’s best selling Peyton Place, which ran continuously, sometimes as many as three nights a week, for almost five years. The role helped Farrow score her first Golden Globe, for Most Promising Newcomer (for which she tied with Mary Ann Mobley and Celia Kaye); moreover, Peyton Place no doubt paved the way for Farrow’s breakthrough big-screen role in Rosemary’s Baby.

Mia Farrow in "Rosemary´s Baby"

^ Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – Polish director Roman Polanksi made his American debut with the phenomenally successful adaptation of Ira Levin’s best seller about a young woman, the wife of a struggling actor, whose pregnancy has terrifying (satanic) implications.  Rosemary’s Baby shook up the conventions of the typical horror film by focusing on suspense and the psychological aspects of the story rather than graphic depictions of gore and violence. Plus, the spookiness was not situated in a big dilapidated haunted house. Instead it was set in an apartment building in contemporary New York City. Also, there is something disturbing in the  way that occultists are portrayed as everyday folk rather than obviously evil nutjobs.  Farrow was willing to go to the mat for the film, to the degree that as production began to run long, she made the bold choice to drop out of her next project, The Detective starring her then superstar husband Frank Sinatra, who ultimately filed for divorce as a result of Farrow’s defiance.  In spite of the havoc the movie wreaked on her personal life, Farrow’s dedication was not unappreciated by audiences or critics. Writing in the New York Times, Renata Adler praised Farrow thusly:  “Miss Farrow is quite marvelous, pale, suffering, almost constantly on-screen in a difficult role…”   The Hollywood Foreign Press Association followed through with a Golden Globe nomination; however, an Oscar nod was not forthcoming. On the other hand, veteran actress Ruth Gordon,  as one of the improbable neighbors in on the plot against Rosemary, won an Oscar–at last–for Best Supporting Actress. When Gordon, fresh from her victory, spoke to the press the night of the ceremony, she downplayed Farrow’s snub, asserting: “She’ll be back next year. She’s going to win for John and Mary” (Wiley and Bona 427).

JohnandMary

^ John and Mary (1969) – It seems odd, almost other-worldy, that in the current era of seemingly unending colossally budgeted comic book epics and a plethora of doomsday scenarios, often in 3-D, a major Hollywood studio, such as 20th Century Fox, would have ever released a character study about a man and a woman who meet in a bar, sleep with each other–without even knowing the other person’s name–and then spend a day actually getting to know each other, but that’s exactly what happened when Fox signed on to distribute this one. I’m sure if it were remade today, these two strangers’ “relationship” would be undone by a twist in which one of them was revealed to be a serial killer, a mad stalker, a spy, or one of the following: vampire/werewolf/zombie/transsexual. Well, despite Ruth Gordon’s optimistic take, John and Mary, no box office biggie on the order of Rosemary’s Baby, did not even secure Farrow an Oscar nod much less a statuette though she and co-star Dustin Hoffman (also hot, hot, hot at the time with Midnight Cowboy) each earned Golden Globe nominations as well as attention from the British Academy. For the latter, Farrow was collectively recognized for John and Mary as well as both Rosemary’s Baby and the controversial The Secret Ceremony opposite Elizabeth Taylor.

Farrow was reportedly approached about playing the role of  Mattie Ross in the hit 1969 version of True Grit, starring John Wayne in an iconic–Academy winning–performance. She turned down the role which eventually went to Kim Darby. Per the IMDb, Farrow claims it was one of the biggest mistakes in her career. (This story is at least partially corroborated on page 128 of Farrow’s What Falls Away.)

For much of the 1970s, after Farrow settled down to raise a family with her second husband, Oscar winning composer-conductor André Previn, she continued to act in projects of varying quality. The Great Gatsby, as noted, was positioned as a blockbuster, but it fell as flat as last New Year’s leftover champagne, or at least that’s the widely held perception. Between 1978 and 1979, Farrow appeared in such high profile offerings as Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile (w/longtime family friend Bette Davis), Robert Altman’s A Wedding, and producer Dino de Laurentiis’s ill-fated remake of Hurricane. During the period, she was often acting onstage, including the leading role in Bernard Slade’s Romantic Comedy. No, really, that’s the name of the play.

Anyway, as the Previn marriage waned, Farrow kept reasonably busy and soon met the man who would change her  personal and professional destinies. I’ll skip over Farrow’s performance in Woody Allen’s  A Midsummer Night Sex Comedy because I wrote about it last year, and I’ll move past Zelig because as good as Farrow is in it, she’s not the draw, the element that gives it its uniqueness.

Mia in BDR

^ Broadway Danny Rose (1984)  – Farrow’s first great performance in a Woody Allen film was as a tough talking decorator, with mob connections, who’s also the sometime squeeze of a married lounge singer in  Broadway Danny Rose. In this rapid fire 84 minute B & W romp about resiliently optimistic showbiz hopefuls, Farrow is virtually unrecognizable with her mountain of  bleached hair, dark glasses, and thick Jersey accent. Now, skeptics might argue that all those superficial elements are gimmicks that do all of Farrow’s acting for her, but I disagree. First, she still brings smart delivery and emotional shading to the role. In other words, she finds the core of the character and makes her believable even while hidden by, and working against, the obviousness of the costume. (Right? She can’t use her eyes to express emotion.) Furthermore, Allen performs a neat trick late in the film when Farrow’s Tina appears at last without her glasses. The effect is startling, and, fortunately, Farrow has the kind of face, flush as it is with exquisite planes, to hold the camera’s focus. Additionally, Farrow’s characterization is so strong that Allen can film a key scene from quite a stunning distance, and without audible dialogue, and the audience doesn’t miss a beat. Tina is already so vividly rendered that audiences don’t need to see and her hear speak each and every word in order to understand what she’s saying and feeling. That’s magic.  Farrow scored a Golden Globe nod for this one, and no less than the Today Show’s Gene Shalit (as I recall) swooped in to praise Farrow, and other actresses who had given strong comedic performances that year, when Oscar looked elsewhere. The 1984/85 Oscar race spotlighted the Academy at its most earnest and high-minded as the Best Picture race was devoid of anything remotely resembling popular entertainment, and the Best Actress race included three previous Oscar winners (Sally Field, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek) in movies about the struggles of farmers (one during the Great Depression) along with Vanessa Redgrave (another previous winner) and Judy Davis in adaptations of literary works by Henry James and E.M. Forster, respectively. Meanwhile,  Farrow and other top comedy stars of both sexes (Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone and Steve Martin in All of Me, to name two) were cast to the sidelines.

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^ The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)  – Farrow’s next great role was as a sweet-natured woman struggling through the Great Depression by seeking solace, escape, in the movies. Well, we’ve all been there. Cecilia is a bit of a scatterbrain, and she loses
her waitressing job as a result; plus, her husband is a brute. Over and over again, she takes in the latest flick at her neighborhood movie house. Her presence so moves one of the film’s dashing male characters that he magically walks out of the film and into Cecilia’s life, leaving the rest of the characters in an onscreen limbo. Meanwhile, the actor who plays the character (Jeff Daniels in both instances) is dispatched to handle the matter. It sounds complicated, but Allen makes it fairly easy to follow, and, of course, the whole thing moves at a clip.  Oh, and it’s funny. This was only the second time that Allen did not appear in one his own films. The first was 1978’s starkly solemn Interiors in which there was clearly no place for his familiar nebbish persona.  In The Purple Rose of Cairo, Farrow’s character functions as Allen’s mouthpiece–in the same way that John Cusack would eventually do in Bullets Over Broadway and as Owen Wilson did recently in Midnight in Paris.  Of course, Farrow gets the pathos just right, but she’s also a hoot, an unexpected delight, as she puts a fresh spin on those well-worn Allen cadences. It’s a nifty trick the way she sometimes sounds so much like him. Plus, even with Jeff Daniels in two roles, Farrow has to carry the picture. If the audience doesn’t care about what happens to Cecilia, the movie has no reason to continue. Furthermore, this actress has everything she needs to help sell what Allen has in mind in the final scenes.  Farrow snagged her second consecutive Golden Globe nod for an Allen film, and she’s listed among the honorable mentions in Danny Peary’s Alternate Oscars (276), but Oscar voters faced some tough decisions during the 1985/86 Best Actress race.  This was a race so jam-packed with likely candidates that it was featured on the cover on People in early 1986.  Farrow wasn’t just an also-ran that year, she was an also ran in the same company that included Cher (Mask), Norma Aleandro (The Official Story), and Coral Browne (Dreamchild) as well as a least a dozen more high profile entries.

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^ Mia Farrow (l) in Hannah and Her Sisters  (1986) co-starring Barbara Hershey (center) and Best Supporting Actress winner Dianne Wiest (r). Per Farrow’s memoirs, What Fades Away, Allen presented her with the completed script and told her she could play any of the sisters  she wanted though Hannah is clearly the sturdy pillar of  one of Allen’s typically wealthy Manhattan families. Luckily, that is the role Farrow chose, and the rest is history. Allen even filmed many of the scenes in Farrow’s own apartment with her real-life children often in the background–and her mother on board as Hannah’s mother. Hannah and Her Sisters was clearly Allen’s most acclaimed film of the 1980s as well as a box office hit and a major Oscar contender. As the seemingly perfect yet still anxious and/or vulnerable sister, Farrow makes a strong impression though this is more of an ensemble piece. Even so, Wiest, in the role of the plucky, neurotic sister, gets all the best lines. Farrow was passed over for an Oscar nod, not surprisingly, and she was also overlooked at the Globes though she was a nominee for the British Academy award.

After Hannah and Her Sisters, most of Farrow’s films with Allen were a mixed bag.  I adored the actress’s turn in Radio Days (1987)  as a ditzy cigarette girl who ultimately reigns supreme as a radio star with impossibly refined diction. Once again, Radio Days is a massive ensemble pic, with a cast that includes such notables as (in no particular order) Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker, Wiest (again), Jeff Daniels, Kenneth Mars, William H. Macy, Diane Keaton, Wallace Shawn, and no less than Kitty Carlisle Hart of all people. Allen has written a character that takes full advantage of Farrow’s vast range, but she’s just one among dozens and dozens of actors with speaking parts.

Allen followed Radio Days with the dreadfully serious September (1987), a movie that uneasily blends Chekhovian elements with the sensationalistic slant of the infamous Lana Turner/Cheryl Crane/Johnny Stompanato murder from 1958.  Filmed within the confines of a single set,  September was an unusually–legendarily–troubled-plagued production which Allen repeatedly rewrote, recast, and even refilmed after the project had seemingly wrapped.  Farrow gives her all in the role of a deeply tormented woman whose whole life has been defined–and undone–by a murder case involving her larger than life domineering mother, played by bold and brassy Elaine Stritch.  The latter repeatedly praised Farrow’s performance as Academy Award caliber in scads of TV and print interviews, but the overall effect was too self-conscious, too much of a muddle, to make much of a favorable impression beyond the most stridently loyal fans of either Allen or Farrow.

Farrow was pregnant during the production of Another Woman (1988), which I happen to think is a movie that approaches the level of a true masterpiece. That noted, it’s really Gena Rowlands’s show. It’s her character’s story. Farrow’s part is absolutely essential to the plot, but the role, an enigmatic pregnant woman named ‘Hope,’  is more of a type than a fully developed character.  I aim to write about this one at length one day.

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^ Farrow in Allen’s  Alice (1990) –  This is the one performance that absolutely should have garnered Farrow, at the very least, an Oscar nomination. She shines, exquisitely so, in this modern update of, well, Alice in Wonderland. Or something like that. In this case, Alice is an Upper East Side neurotic mess. Is there any other kind in an Allen film? At any rate, Alice is married to successful yet starchy William Hurt, and she does her best to say, do, and buy all the politically correct things. She also knows how to shop at the best stores and pamper herself at the poshest salons, yet, somehow, she feels unfulfilled–and her back hurts. Luckily, a friend recommends an herbalist (Keye Luke) who knows how to blend a remedy for almost any condition. What happens after that is a fantastical journey of self-exploration. Thematically, Alice covers much of the same territory as Another Woman but does so with warmth, whimsy, and wonder. And, oh yes, magic. Thanks to her herbalist’s talents, Alice can become invisible, can fly across the evening sky, and into the past, with the ghost of a long lost love, charming yet just a tad forlorn as played by Alec Baldwin at the peak of his masculine beauty.  Alice also drops her reserve long enough to take a walk on the wild side with Joe Mantegna’s sexy saxophonist.  Allen gives Farrow plenty of leeway to try on a variety of emotions in many scenes; moreover, she gets to evince spectacular emotional changes, sometimes without a lot of fussy camera movement and/or editing. Allen just points the camera at her amazing face, and Farrow lets her talent guide her.  An early encounter with Mantegna, right after Farrow has gulped down one of her herbal mixtures, is breathtaking as it depicts Alice’s gradual transformation from mousy to smoldering.  Just close your eyes and listen to the satisfied purr of her voice.  In his book Alternate Oscars, author Danny Peary “takes away” Kathy Bates’s Oscar for Misery and instead awards it to Farrow: “…[her] best performance to date has never received due recognition” (303).  I love Bates, but I agree with Peary. Farrow  might only be second to Joanne Woodward’s in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge as that year’s cream of the crop. The 1990/91 Oscar lineup also included Angelica Huston (The Grifters), Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), and Meryl Streep (Postcards from the Edge). Yeah, I know Roberts’s film was an unexpected blockbuster that worked as well as it did because of its leading lady’s big personality and even bigger smile, but, that aside, I don’t think this many years later any of these ladies’ performances register as significant. When was the last time you settled down to watch The Grifters? On the other hand, if I ever turn on my TV, and Alice is playing on one of the movie channels, I stop and watch.  Even though the Academy overlooked her, Farrow did receive a few accolades for Alice, most notably a Golden Globe nod, natch, and Best Actress honors from the National Board of Review. Even if you’re not an Allen fan, I implore you to put this one on your Movie Bucket List.

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^ Widows’ Peak (1994) – After a rather public, not to mention devastating and humiliating, breakup with Allen, Farrow found recourse in this delightfully creepy yarn co-written by playwright Hugh Leonard (Da) and co-starring Natasha Richardson (r) and Joan Plowright (l). Farrow, paying tribute to her Irish heritage, portrays the perennial village misfit; Richardson plays a manipulative American newcomer, and Plowright reigns as the domineering dowager. These three women keep trying to top each other in a deadly game of “outplay, outwit, outlast” (like on TV’s Survivor), but there are quite a few laughs–the dark kind–along the way. I remember Farrow visited David Letterman as this movie was being released in the spring of 1994, when Letterman was less than a year into his then “new” home at CBS, and  the host could not praise the movie, or Farrow, enough. (Note: it was the first time Farrow had ever appeared on Letterman at either CBS or NBC, so it was kind of a big deal.) I have to confess that after I saw this movie for the first time, I was so tickled that I was ready to immediately watch it again, and because I was working at the same theater where I saw it, and it was free, I probably did stay and watch it again. In early 1995, as first round Oscar ballots were being marked, no less than Hollywood icon Charlton Heston reportedly lamented the dearth of worthy performances by leading actresses, but Chris Hewitt, writing for Knight-Ridder News Services, responded with an article, carried in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, that praised Farrow in Widow’s Peak as one of the best of the best–along with Jessica Lange (Blue Sky), who was nominated, and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle), who, like Farrow, was overlooked yet again.

After Widows’ Peak, Farrow’s big screen output tapered noticeably. She earned good notices in Miami Rhapsody, a saucy Allenesque comedy that featured Antonio Banderas and marked the first collaborative effort of Sex and the City‘s Sarah Jessica Parker and writer-director-producer David Frankel.  Farrow also starred in the disastrous adaptation of Craig Lucas’s quirky play, Reckless. This one was so ill-received that I don’t think it ever made it out of limited NY/LA engagements. She later scored a Golden Globe nomination ( her ninth) for a TV movie about Alzheimer’s, Forget Me Never. She also had a recurring role in Third Watch, which ran on NBC from 1999 to 2005. She also had a jokey bit in the the 2006 remake of The Omen–about another demonic child.

Of course, Farrow is well positioned enough that she does not necessarily work constantly. Well, that’s how it seems from the outside. I do know, however, that the woman is passionate about human rights and has devoted a lot of her time and energy the past few years to various causes, and I applaud her for that.  Mia Farrow has endured a lot of high profile scandals and intense media scrutiny, but in spite of all that, as well as an upbringing seemingly buoyed by wealth and privilege, I’ve always thought of her as basically “good people” and only wish her well.

Okay, still not convinced that this actress hasn’t been given her due?  How about this? Watch any two of the seven movies featured in this article–especially the Allen films–back to back and see what you think after that.  Farrow so thoroughly disappears inside her characters that you might find it hard to believe you’re actually watching the same actress from one flick to the next. How often does that happen? Yeah.

Please feel free to add any comments about your personal fave Farrow performance.

Thanks for your consideration….

Update (Fri, 10/04/2013): Skip to the following links if you must, but first let’s play the hottest new guessing game about Farrow. In a current Vanity Fair article, Farrow alludes to the distinct “possibility” that her grown son, and activist lawyer, Ronan (26 in December) might have been fathered by Ol Blue Eyes himself,  that’s right, the one and only Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra. Of course, back in ’87 when Ronan was born, we all thought he was the child of Farrow and Woody Allen; after all, Farrow and Sinatra had been divorced for almost two decades at that point. My guess is that Sinatra donated to the cause rather than enlisted to serve on the frontlines; meanwhile, no less than Frank’s famous daughter Nancy allows that Ronan has something on the order of meaningful ties to the Sinatra family though the elder Sinatra’s widow Barbara (the actor-singer passed away in 1998) denies any such thing.

I’ll admit that Ronan bears a strong resemblance to Sinatra–those blue eyes are hard to deny–but, of course, Mia also has blue eyes though not as piercing. Plus, she’s fair-haired and complexioned as is her son. I think Ronan Farrow tends to look like one or the other depending on how compare/contrast photos are arranged. What do you think???

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Adler, Renata. “Rosemary’s Baby.” New York Times. 13 June 1968. Web. 12 May 2013. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF1738E271BC4B52DFB0668383679EDE

Farrow, Mia. What Falls Away: A Memoir. New York: Nan A. Talese, an imprint of Doubleday. 1997.

Farrow and Human Rights: http://www.miafarrow.org/

Farrow at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001201/

Hewitt, Chris. “Oscar needs glasses: There’s no dearth of actress nominees.” Knight-Ridder News Service reprinted in Fort Worth Star Telegram. (No date available.)

Peary, Danny. Alternate Oscars. New York: Delta, 1993.

Wiley Mason, and Damien Bona. Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, 10th Anniversary Edition.  New York: Ballantine, 1996. Print.

Ray Harryhausen: Master of Marvels

8 May
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Ray Harryhausen accepting the Gordon Sawyer award at the 1991/92 Academy Awards.

Well, I’m sorry to report that Ray Harryhausen, the legendary maestro of movie special effects, has passed away at the age of 92.  In his lengthy career, Harryhausen racked up several dozen credits as an effects artist, a director,  a producer,  a cinematographer, and even an animator and a sometime actor. He combined a razor sharp intellect with finely-tuned skill and artistic vision to create a very specific kind of cinematic magic–often employing miniatures and stop-motion animation–that captured the imaginations of generations of moviegoers and secured his place in the pantheon of film world giants.  His style was instantly recognizable and often imitated.

One of his first breaks as a feature film “technician” was on 1949’s Oscar winning Mighty Joe Young, about a giant ape. Even though Harryhausen was a member of the recognized team, he did not earn a trophy; during those days, the Oscars in some of the craft categories were not actually awarded to individuals. Instead, they often went to department and/or studio heads.  Harryhausen’s last major credit was 1981’s Clash of the Titans, but by that point, audiences were used to being dazzled by the splashier effects featured in the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg; don’t forget, 1981 was was dominated by the blockbuster crowd pleaser Raiders of the Lost Ark, which Lucas co-wrote and co-produced, and Spielberg directed. That noted, I detect Harryhausen’s influence on the thrilling effect of the Stained Glass Knight in 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes, which Spielberg produced. Of course, Harryhausen’s work impacted leagues of film geeks.

Movie fans of my generation, and even generations both before and after mine, no doubt have their favorite Harryhausen moments and memories.  For some, that might be One Million Years B.C.;  for others, it might be The 3 Worlds of Gulliver. I actually saw both in theaters as a child.  Of course, the three Sinbad movies have their followers as well; however, of all Harryhausen’s films, nothing compares to Jason and the Argonauts from 1963, loosely based on the tale of the golden fleece from Greek mythology. I saw this movie multiple times as a child. My guess is that it was frequently re-released for Saturday kiddie matinees, etc. On a side note, I do miss the days when popular movies were often re-released or “brought back” as I often heard the practice called.

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The classic creatures from Ray Harryhausen’s masterpiece, Jason and the Argonauts (clockwise from left): Talos, the battling skeltons, the hydra, and a harpie.

Of course, children are blessed with the ability to accept actors’ performances without a lot of fuss. There is little or no distinction between performer and character.  What this means is that as a child, I was spared any awareness that much of the acting in Jason and the Argonauts is pretty awful. Who knows why, but Todd Armstrong, who plays Jason, was actually dubbed.  The dubbing isn’t badly executed, but it is a bit distracting at times.  Was Steve Reeves busy that year, I wonder? Still, the spectacular set pieces are the draw in what Harryhausen reportedly considered his finest effort.  To clarify, Harryhausen did not direct the film (that credit goes to Don Chaffey); instead, he co-produced and essentially designed it though, as pointed out by John Landis on the DVD featurette, Harryhausen is very much considered the auteur, the author, of the piece.

So, what’s your favorite sequence in Jason and the Argonauts? I know you must have one, or you would still not be reading. Michael’s fave is the one with the giant statue of Talos.  I know some people marvel at the hydra or the harpies. As a youngster, I was most fascinated by the appearance of Triton as he emerged from the sea in all his  larger than life mer-man glory. I accepted this bit of tomfoolery at absolute face value.  Of course, composite effects shots with scale and/or forced perspective almost always play better on big movie screens in darkened auditoriums than they do at home on noticeably smaller screens, so this one has lost a little of its charm.

The sequence that has not lost a whit of its charm is, of course, the attack of the skeletons and their swords, which is arguably the most celebrated feat in the movie. I love that my 1998 model DVD features an interview with Harryhausen in which he explains some of the logistics of building, animating, and filming the stop-motion miniature skeletons.  He was likely in his late 70s at the time, but even 30+ years after completing Jason, he still vividly recalls all kinds of details. Fascinating stuff.  Here’s a quote I found online from Harryhausen’s book, co-written with Tony Dalton,  An Animated Life.

  • Each of the model skeletons was about eight to 10 inches high, and six of the seven were made for the sequence. The remaining one was a veteran from [The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad], slightly repainted to match the new members of the family. When all the skeletons have manifested themselves to Jason and his men, they are commanded by Acetes to “Kill, kill, kill them all”, and we hear an unearthly scream. What follows is a sequence of which I am very proud. I had three men fighting seven skeletons, and each skeleton had five appendages to move in each separate frame of film. This meant at least 35 animation movements, each synchronised to the actors’ movements. Some days I was producing less than one second of screen time; in the end the whole sequence took a record four and a half months.

As incredible as this sounds, Harryhausen is actually being a bit modest,  skipping over some of the laborious effort that went into both filming the miniatures in stop motion and then combining that footage with the intricately choreographed live-action footage with actors. I think this many years later it’s still breathtaking. Oh sure, visual effects have made huge technological advances, but are they necessarily better on a visceral level? Do they necessarily inspire that sense of  “How did they do that” awe? These days, most often we know how they did it: digitally with a green screen.  I was suitably impressed with some of Life of Pi‘s ravishing, and Oscar winning, visuals, but I was not left with a sense of wonder, yet I can watch Jason fight those skeletons for days.

Some final thoughts. Despite some obviously mis-matched shots, Jason and the Argonauts, lensed in Italy (as any number of gladiator pics  of the era were), is often flat-out gorgeous. Excellent eye candy and not a whole lot more.  Plus, no less than frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann composed the score, which is an automatic plus for any film. The cast also includes quintessential 1960s sexy screen sirens, Bond girl Honor Blackman (as Herra) and stunning Nancy Kovack, who frequently made the rounds of TV sitcoms back in the day (often cast as exotic types) as a less than Medea-esque Medea. She looks great and has a whole lot less baggage than previous incarnations.

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No, Ray Harryhausen had nothing to do with Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder; however, influential opening credit and poster designer Saul Bass is being celebrated as today’s Google Doodle, so that’s cool. Bass was born on May 8, 1920; he died in 1996. I’m a huge fan of his work which also includes designs for such Hitchcock classics as Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest as well as Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm and Exodus, and a host of other biggies, including West Side Story, Spartacus, and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, among many many many many others. Bass’s bold graphics are as easily recognizable as Harryhausen’s signature stop-motion creatures, and both men were more or less working at their peaks during the same era. The Google short film is a hoot, and I’d rather save time and stay current by squeezing in a mention here. (Scroll down to the end of this  page for a peek.)

Though there were no “Special Visual Effects”  Oscars for Jason and the Argonauts–not in the same year that gave moviegoers The Birds and Cleopatra, which actually won the trophy (also filmed in Italy), Harryhausen was recognized by the Academy later  in life with the Gordon Sawyer Award honoring individuals “in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.” Again, by the time he was finally lauded by his peers in the Academy, Harryhausen’s best work was long behind him. It seems absurd that someone of his stature had to wait so long for recognition (almost 30 years after Jason, say).  Oh sure, I guess better late than never and all that,  and he was honored more than once at the Saturn awards (besides having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), but there’s another point worth making in that awards are not the end all-be all because what matters most of all is the work, its lasting value, and the joy it brings.

Thanks, Ray…

Official Ray Harryhausen website:

http://www.rayharryhausen.com/index.php

Harryhausen book excerpt: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/dec/20/featuresreviews.guardianreview16

Gordon Sawyer award at Oscars.org: http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/about/awards/sawyer.html

Harryhausen at the Internet Movie Databse:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0366063/?ref_=sr_1

Saul Bass at the IMDb:http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000866/?ref_=sr_1

(Check out today’s Saul Bass inspired Google Doodle here.)