Archive | October, 2013

The Persistence of Allusion

29 Oct

What’s your favorite Halloween spooky movie? Halloween? Carrie? Psycho? The Exorcist? Maybe you were watching Night of the Living Dead before zombies were cool. Perhaps you prefer vintage Universal: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, etc.  Almost everyone knows I get a kick out of Universal’s The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. I like a few yuks with my chills though I’m almost always up for Carrie and some of the other classics. I now know that some people adore Bette Midler’s cheeky Hocus Pocus and watch it every year. Well, certainly witches are making a comeback.  I recently had a chance (two chances, actually)  to catch up with another flick that mixes  laughs with thrills and chills, and that’s 1991’s Dead Again, actor-director Kenneth Branagh’s kooky, campy, tense, and twisty ode to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.

The plot unfolds as follows: In late 1940s Los Angeles, a beautiful, accomplished concert pianist falls in love with a brilliant if volatile composer-conductor. The two wed and move into the conductor’s Neo-Gothic manse with his clingy live-in housekeeper; however, the newlyweds’ happiness does not last long, and the bride is brutally murdered. In short order, the husband is arrested, tried, and put to death. More than forty years pass, and one night a confused woman shows up at the orphanage that was once the home of the pianist and the conductor.  Not only does the woman not even know her own name nor where she calls home, she can’t even speak. Still, she’s tormented by violent dreams.  Eventually, she comes to believe that she’s the pianist reincarnated; moreover, she believes that someone wants to kill her…again.

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^ Kenneth Branagh as Roman Strauss in Dead Again,

When Branagh set out to direct and star in Dead Again with his then wife Emma Thompson, he was hot-hot-hot, having just earned a pair of Oscar nods (Best Actor and Best Director) for his stunning take on Shakespeare’s Henry V, for all practical purposes his entry into feature films.  At the time, critics hailed Branagh as the heir apparent to the  late great Sir Laurence Olivier, who passed away in June of 1989–only months before Henry‘s year-end release. By all accounts, Branagh basked in all that Olivier hype, even encouraging it.

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^ Young Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter in Rebecca.

It’s hard not to think of Olivier when watching Branagh in Dead Again–or at least parts of it, as he and Thompson play two roles each. In black and white flashbacks, they’re Roman and Margaret Strauss, and even though Branagh’s hair and makeup do not make him look exactly like Olivier in Alfred Hitchcock’s Oscar winning Rebecca, a strong resemblance clearly exists–and likely not a coincidence.  Keep in mind, as well, that Rebecca was also filmed in black and white; moreover, Dead Again and Rebecca share a number of plot elements, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

To clarify, Branagh did not write Dead Again. No, that distinction belongs to Scott Frank, whose other credits include the diabolically clever Malice (1993), along with adaptations of Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report, The Interpreter (a movie worth its own blog article), and Marley and Me of all things. At any rate, Frank contributes commentary on the DVD release, and even though Hitchcock is mentioned in passing, there’s not much in way of pointing out specific allusions, but the master’s fingerprints, so to speak, are all over the piece, quite deliberately I’m sure.

Whatever else it has going for it, Dead Again is very much a movie about movies, and picking out all of the Hitchcock references is great fun.  Shall we?

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Hollywood magic strikes again as screenwriter Scott Frank reveals the cupolas on the Strauss estate were especially created for the film

^ In Rebecca, Maxim de Winter brings his new bride to Manderly, the lavish estate he shared with his deceased first wife.  In Dead Again, Margaret Strauss moves into Roman Strauss’s Goth mansion (above) after a whirlwind courtship.  To clarify: the Strauss exterior is NOT Rebecca‘s Manderly exterior. The point is the similarity in plots though this  move is typical of a Gothic romance.  That noted, if the Dead Again manse looks familiar, it’s likely because it was once featured as “stately Wayne Manor” in the old Batman TV series.  I recognized it the first time I saw Dead Again, and while neither writer Frank nor producer Lindsay Duncan actually confirms it, they do strongly suggest that this Pasadena mansion is indeed the Batman house. In Dead Again, as previously noted, it’s also seen as the orphanage that the Strauss mansion becomes over time.

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Dame Judith Anderson in her Oscar nominated performance as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca.

^ Per last week’s entry about Joan Fontaine, the second Mrs. de Winter does not curry much favor with her husband’s spooky housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, played by Oscar nominee Judith Anderson (above). Similarly, in  Dead Again‘s flashbacks, tension builds between newlywed Margaret Strauss and her husband’s longtime housekeeper Inga; the latter barely hides her contempt for the new lady-of-the-house and thinks nothing of overstepping her bounds even if that means sabotaging the Strausses’ wedding night.

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British acting royalty, and frequent Branagh collaborator, Derek Jacobi garnered a BAFTA nomination for his role in Dead Again

^ In Psycho, boyish, lanky motel manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) appears extremely preoccupied with his dear old mom while in Dead Again, a dapper antiques dealer, and part-time hypnotist, played by Derek Jacobi (above) has some weird creepy bond with his own mum. In both movies, the sons exchange unpleasantries with their mothers, both of whom remain mysteriously offscreen during such bouts.

A key scene in Rebecca takes place during a costume party while Dead Again features a masked ball which also proves crucial. That noted, nothing about the latter suggests anything specific about the former. Yes, there is a similarity though it’s not compelling.  After all, it’s not unusual to see a big party scene in a movie. On the other hand, Dead Again shares something more specific with Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. In the latter,  Jimmy Stewart’s character embarks on a search to find his son’s kidnappers, but his hunt goes nowhere until he realizes that he has completely misinterpreted an important clue. In Dead Again‘s modern scenes, a detective (also played by Branagh) suffers a similar distraction.

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Hitchcock goes “3-D” in 1954’s Dial M for Murder

In Dial M for Murder, Grace Kelly (above) reaches for a pair of scissors as she fights to protect herself against an attacker, and wouldn’t you know it:  scissors are the weapon of choice for Margaret Strauss’s killer.  Indeed, they’re all over the place, beginning with the first scene. At the same time, the murder in Dead Again is staged behind sheer drapery with lots of shadows, so while the crime is not shown graphically, it also recalls the brutal stabbing in Psycho which takes place in a shower stall with the killer’s shadow first seen emerging through a shower curtain.

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The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dali

^ In what I believe is the wittiest gag in all of Dead Again, Salvador Dali’s famous painting The Persistence of Memory (above) is parodied–with melting scissors replacing the time pieces in Dali’s iconic original. What makes the gag so brilliant is the way it works on multiple levels. At first, it just seems funny to see scissors in the painting, but then the beauty of it becomes more apparent. For example, didn’t Dali design the dream sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound (below) with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck? Yes, it’s true, and scissors make an appearance in the Spellbound sequence,  so the Dead Again version is no mere allusion to Dali because it still functions as a nod to Hitchcock. Plus, it echos Spellbound in another way as characters in both movies undergo hypnosis  in order to unlock the secrets of their pasts.

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An image from the Salvador Dali designed dream sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound

Also, the very title of Dali’s painting, the whole idea of it, is particularly resonant in Branagh’s film for two reasons. First, it is indeed the persistent memories of past lives intruding on the present that will not let the characters rest.  Furthermore, Dead Again relies on the collective memory of film enthusiasts in order to work on as many levels as it does because, again, it is as much about other movies as it is about a murdered woman and reincarnation.  Because the love and lore of movies has so pervaded the public consciousness, I wonder how Dali might tackle his singularly famous painting if he were alive today. Film strips or DVDs instead of clocks maybe? Maybe representations of famous movie posters?

A movie with a script as far flung as this one, with as many characters as this one, absolutely requires strong performances to help keep it moving. Besides Branagh, Thompson, and Jacobi, Dead Again also features Andy Garcia as a  determined, if not entirely honorable, reporter (and, oh, is he gorgeous!) and Robin Williams–uncredited–as a psychiatrist who has, well, definitely seen better days.  You might also recognize a few more faces among the cast even if the names are not quite as familiar.  As noted,  Jacobi actually earned a Best Supporting Actor nod from the British Academy. Not bad, especially since, per the DVD commentary, he had almost no prep time between the time he arrived in LA from England (after completing one project)  and the time he actually began shooting. Maybe a two day turnaround. I don’t think Branagh and Thompson were necessarily Oscar worthy, but I could have easily imagined that one or the other would be in line for a Golden Globe because these are performances, two each mind you, that work on multiple levels, meaning the actors know when to play it straight and when to incorporate some sly, sly humor. Thompson is also especially good at evincing panic, and Branagh knows how to seize command of the screen when he’s in full-throttle Olivier, I mean Strauss, mode.

On the other hand, skillful performances aside, Dead Again is not without a few shortcomings. Mainly, the cinematography.  The black and white stuff was one of the things that first attracted my interest some twenty years ago when I decided to make Dead Again one of my quarterly project pictures.  The campaign was great, btw, but I was a bit letdown by when I first viewed the movie, yet I couldn’t articulate why except that I thought something was somehow “off” in the flashbacks.  The easiest way would be to say that some of the B&W scenes look washed-out or muddied somehow. Maybe “low contrast” is the best way to describe the effect. Oh, the flashbacks are not terrible. At times, they are quite striking, but they don’t necessarily look glamorous or exciting in that classic Hollywood way, you know, per RebeccaNotorious, Psycho, etc. Well, what did I learn from the DVD? As conceived, the movie was set to switch from B&W to color to B&W again, and, true enough, that’s the end result; however, despite writer Frank’s intentions, Branagh had it in mind to film the whole thing in color, probably to save both time and money. Later, audiences in early screenings (or something akln to…)  struggled to figure out what was “real” and what was a flashback, so the decision was made to convert the 1940s scenes  to B&W during post-production.  This soon became an issue for the costume designer (Phyllis Dalton [1]), production designer (Tim Harvey), etc. who made it clear that if they had known their work was going to be seen in black and white rather than in color, they would have made other choices in their work.

This goes back to last week’s article about the use of black and white imagery of Letter from an Unknown Woman.  In order for black and white to achieve maximum value, great care must be paid to the palette BEFORE the camera rolls. It’s not as simple as making sure something looks good to the human eye and then shooting it with black and white film.  Like Frank’s script, the design elements must be conceived in black and white; otherwise, the tones are not as distinct as they need to be. The dark colors just look dark, the medium tones are a blur, and the shades of white just don’t pop.  Oh, and even Frank and Duncan lament that two of the converted scenes were actually incredibly beautiful in their original color incarnations. Alas, this was a case in which Branagh’s inexperience as a feature film director worked against him. (Note: Besides the audio commentary provided by Frank and Duncan, Branagh offers his perspective on a separate track.)

On the other hand, despite the snafu over the whole color/black and white thing, Dead Again has plenty to recommend besides some clever performances–chief among these is Patrick Doyle’s score, which demands the audience’s attention from the first note of the first frame. Well, it stands to reason that a movie about a composer would boast impeccable music, but Doyle combines a certain amount of grandiosity–after all, Roman Strauss is in the business of opera–while at the same time paying tribute to the familiar yet ominous strains of composer Bernard Herrmann, who scored many of Hitchcock’s most famous films, including Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. Doyle also throws in a reference or two to Miklos Rozsa’s creepy, Oscar winning score to Spellbound. The movie is also heavy with piano in some scenes, which also makes sense in keeping with Margaret’s livelihood.  Dead Again also features a nifty little tour of 1940s era Los Angeles as many of the actual locations are authentic to the era; some of those locations include the Hightower House and the Shakespeare Bridge.

Plus, Scott Frank’s script is quite a nifty contraption working in as many Hitchcock references as it does along with juggling stories set more than 40 years apart and all kinds of interesting details related to character development. To his credit, Frank was actually nominated for an Edgar award (as in Edgar Allen Poe). Also, I think the ending is incredibly sexy though the full implications of it might not be apparent upon first viewing.

Well, we all know how this story ends. No, not the story of Margaret and Roman. The story of Emma and Kenneth. They divorced a few years after working on Dead Again though not before pairing up for Branagh’s super sexy sun-soaked 1993 treatment of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (also with music by Patrick Doyle and costumes by Phyllis Dalton). Thompson snagged a Best Actress Oscar for 1992’s Howards End and was back in the race the following year for both The Remains of the Day (Best Actress) and In the Name of the Father (Best Supporting Actress). She later scored another Oscar for adapting Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility for director Ang Lee in 1995, earning yet another Best Actress nod in the process. Branagh hasn’t fared too poorly either.  He directed  1992’s Oscar nominated short film, Swan Song (adapted from Chekhov’s play), and then in 1996, he adapted, directed, and starred in the first full-length feature film version of Hamlet (with Derek Jacobi as Claudius).  When the Academy rewarded him with a nod for his screenplay, skeptics scoffed. Their reasoning was that since Branagh had made such a big deal about presenting Shakespeare’s text in its full four-hour glory, he had not actually “adapted” anything. Those naysayers completely missed the point: Branagh didn’t just point a camera and let it record actors reciting Shakepeare’s dialogue verbatim. Even with his apparent fidelity to the Bard, Branagh still had to visualize how he wanted to present the material, and then he had to break down that vision accordingly into a suitable shooting script. Of course, where does any actor go after s/he plays Hamlet? For Branagh, the logical step, though it took awhile [2], was to actually play his hero, Lord Olivier. Yep, Branagh portrayed the legendary actor-director in 2011’s My Week with Marilyn, the allegedly true story of what happened when 1950’s American sex goddess Marilyn Monroe went to England to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl with the one and only Olivier. Not only was Branagh a perfect fit for the role, he picked up an Oscar nod for it as well. A triumph; however,  I can’t ever imagine watching My Week with Marilyn again.  Talk about scary. Michelle Williams’s performance as Monroe, Oscar nomination or no, is too blood curdling even for Halloween viewing. Stick to Branagh unofficially impersonating Olivier in Dead Again.

Thanks for your consideration….

[1] Dalton had just won an Oscar for Branagh’s Henry V when she began work on Dead Again.

[2] One of my favorite Branagh films, though quite intense and not always pretty, is Australia’s award winning, and fact-based, Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002); he also had a supporting role in the surprisingly taut Valkyrie (2008). Plus, he and Thompson both appeared in the Harry Potter movies.

More on the Shakespeare Bridge and the Hightower House: http://www.bigwaste.com/photos/ca/dead_again/

The Hightower House: http://www.vrbo.com/339669

Happy Birthday, “Unknown” Joan

22 Oct

I’m reposting this piece from October in tribute to Ms. Fontaine, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 96…

 

Okay, today is Tuesday, October 22. If I’ve timed this just right, it’s Joan Fontaine’s 96th birthday.  Hopefully, she’s still alive. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. See, I began writing this piece on Monday, July 8, and my goal is to take as long as I need to write it, my way, and present it on her b’day. Hopefully, she’s  still with us. 96, can you believe that?

Fontaine’s parents were English though she was actually born in Japan and lived there for a number of years before settling down, with her mum and older sister, in California. Her sis, btw, is no less than renowned actress Olivia de Havilland, a two-time Best Actress Oscar winner (To Each His Own, 1946; The Heiress, 1949) though Joan actually beat her to the gold, earning the Academy’s Best Actress award for 1941’s Suspicion, directed by Alfred Hitchcock–and co-starring Cary Grant. Indeed, Fontaine’s Oscar came at her sister’s expense as she was nominated the same year for Hold Back the Dawn. Talk about an awkward moment though, again, de Havilland went on to win two of the golden statuettes.  Anyway, prior to working with Hitch on her own Oscar winner, Fontaine starred in the director’s 1940 Best Picture winner Rebecca, from Daphne du Maurier’s best selling gothic novel, for which Fontaine scored her first Oscar nod.

Joan and sister Olivia, also still living (as of this writing) have famously feuded for decades, including a well-publicized backstage row one year at the Oscars–after de Havilland won; actually, I think the sisters used to feud. These days, I don’t think they even speak to each other, according to most reports–and haven’t for quite some time.  (Since they’re both close to 100, they might not be lucid these days to carry on conversations with anybody, anyway.) I’ve never really understood what has fueled their mutual distaste for one another,  the specific trigger, that is, but I guess it’s easy enough to chalk it up to sibling rivalry.

I guess that as time goes by, de Havilland is probably more fondly remembered than is Fontaine; after all, the former’s filmography includes the seemingly immortal blockbuster Gone with the Wind, in which she portrayed my too-saintly-to-be-true namesake: Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. Namesake, Schmamesake, I’ve just never cared for that character.  She’s insufferable, and I want to lash out against her somehow, but I digress.  De Havilland boasts a total of five Oscar nominations, including not only a supporting bid for GWTW, but also for her leading role in  The Snake Pit, a for-the-times frank look at mental institutions, the predecessor to the likes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Frances though, again, this piece is really about Fontaine.

My point is that I’ve always been more impressed by Joan Fontaine–the other Joan (sorry, Miss Crawford) than I ever have been by de Havilland.  To me, Fontaine is something akin to an acting savant: wind her up and watch her act.  Yes, maybe, but, not exactly. It’s almost as though she doesn’t need to be wound up in order to do what she does. Instead, it appears that she almost can’t help herself, that she must act–and must do so with every scintilla of her being.  Incredibly, Fontaine only boasts three Oscar nods.  Again, she won for Suspicion after being nominated for Rebecca. I’ll be frank. Fontaine’s character in Rebecca, known only as the second Mrs. de Winter (after the mysterious passing of the titular first Mrs. de Winter), doesn’t excite me as much as some of her other performances. Oh, of course, she’s convincing as a guileless young bride who may very well be in over her head, but it would be hard for anyone to stand out in a crowd that includes such hammy divas as Dame Judith Anderson, Laurence Olivier, and George Sanders.  I mean, come on, Anderson, a well-deserving Best Supporting Actress nominee (who lost to Jane Darwell as Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath) just eats the screen as Mrs. Danvers, a deliciously cuckoo housekeeper with titanium nerve. Anderson’s portrayal deserves every bit of its legendary status. Poor Fontaine never stood a chance. On the other hand, maybe that was the point.

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Joan Fontaine on Oscar night way back when she won for  1941’s Suspicion. The actress was a mere 24 years old when she earned her industry’s highest accolade, only two years older than the most recent Best Actress winner, Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook).  The youngest ever winner in the category is Marlee Matlin (Children of a Lesser God, 1986) who was all of 21 when it happened for her.

Fontaine’s Oscar winning Suspicion might as well be called Rebecca-2.0 because in many ways it seems like a retread of the earlier film; that noted,  du Maurier’s Rebecca itself owes more than a little to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, in which Fontaine co-starred opposite Orson Welles in a 1943 adaptation….but I digress. In Suspicion, Fontaine plays a bookish heiress, a tad too naive for her own good, who falls in love, recklessly it seems, with a charming social climber played by Grant. Once again, a Fontaine heroine comes to realize that her marriage is fraught with dark underpinnings.  I have to say  that even though Suspicion is not quite vintage Hitchcock, and, believe me, it’s not, I remember being more than just a little impressed by Fontaine the first time I saw it. It’s not an especially flashy role, that’s not it, it’s just that Fontaine is so good at inhabiting a character, a woman, who feels love as deeply as she does. Oh, and she’s elegant and beautiful and all that (much more so than in Rebecca).

Even so, the script is wobbly though Hitchcock tries hard to make it visually interesting, what with a lighting scheme that casts a spidery shadow over much of Fontaine’s home. Elsewhere, we’re treated to a macabre dinner party featuring a mystery novelist, an undertaker, and, oh, yes, a tight lipped butch lesbian. Then, there’s that famous scene of Grant carrying an eerily lit glass of milk (that might very well be poisoned) up a winding staircase.  Sure it looks great, but, again, given all the tinkering involved with the script (at the behest of the studio heads and/or censors), the scene doesn’t work nearly as well in retrospect. Ask me why only after you’ve seen the movie yourself.  Oh, and then you might also be able to help me settle a bet. I hate spoilers, but here goes: in the last shot, do you think Hitchcock used body doubles for Fontaine and Grant? It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

Fontaine’s final Oscar nomination was for The Constant Nymph, a film that was out of circulation for a great long while (seven decades, per…) , but was resurrected on Turner Classic Movies about a year or two ago.  The plot is bizarre, maybe a little underwhelming even, but Fontaine delivers emotional authenticity even with a script as patchy as this one. Simply, Fontaine plays a school girl who has a crush on her cousin’s famous composer husband.  Nothing is easy in this saga, I assure you, including the casting. Alexis Smith plays the cousin while Charles Boyer portrays the composer. Oh, I’ve always been a fan of Boyer, but pairing him with Fontaine makes me uneasy.  Still, the thing to remember here is that Fontaine was 26 when she made this movie, but she’s playing a teenager, again, a school girl, and she does so effortlessly, or seemingly effortlessly, and that’s part of what makes her performance so compelling.

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Joan Fontaine (r) is certainly aided in the early sequences of Letter from an Unknown Woman by loose fitting, shapeless dresses and long, girlish hair. These combined elements definitely help create a convincing illusion that thirtyish Fontaine is actually a gawky teen. Still, cosmetic details only go so far. Fontaine’s body language and her intense wide-eyed gaze work wonders. When the camera is focused on her while adults are speaking, she actually listens like a 14 year old.

Really, this whole article is one great big build-up for me to plug my all-time favorite Fontaine film, for which she was incredibly NOT nominated for an Oscar, and that is 1948’s Letter from an Unknown Woman (directed by Max Ophüls though his screen credit reads “Max Opuls’). Adapted from a novella by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig,  Letter from an Unknown Woman tells the story of a Viennese school girl  who develops a secret crush on a neighbor, a famous pianist, and spends most of her life (beginning in the late 1800s) pining for a man who scarcely knows she’s alive. Of course, being a gentleman, sort of, the pianist (Louis Jourdan) pays almost no mind to the mild flirtations of the girl other than a polite nod, a kind word, here and there. Maybe he admires her pluck, but he certainly does not view her in a romantic light.  (How old can she be, after all, 13 or 14?) Mostly, because he’s a bit of a cad when he’s not playing the piano, he simply dismisses her–and then forgets all about her.

Fortunes change, and Fontaine’s Lisa moves with her mother and stepfather to the town of Linz, but even as Lisa grows from gawky adolescent to poised young woman, she clings to her crush on this idealized male. Well, who can blame her, right? Louis Jourdan is quite the specimen of masculine beauty–and this was well before he enacted a similar role in MGM’s Oscar winning Gigi.  Anyway, though the now blossoming Lisa is not without suitors, no one  can possibly live up to her romantic expectations, which distresses her parents as they are, well, a little anxious to see her married. When Lisa’s refusal to accept a proposal prompts her parents to turn her out of their house, she finds work as a model in a dress maker’s salon. Then, she catches up with the pianist (okay, she stalks him, and not for the first time), and they enjoy a brief fling, resulting in a life-changing pregnancy.

I’ll stop there, but just know that the story spans one more act–and several more years.  Make no mistake, however, this is pure melodrama, but it’s done with incredible style, starting with the startlingly vivid black and white cinematography by Franz Planer,  whose many, many credits (162 per the IMDb) include 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Breakfast at Tiffany’s as well as Oscar nods for the likes of  Champion (1949, B&W),  Death of a Salesman (1951, B&W), Roman Holiday (1953, a shared nod with Henri Alekan, also B&W), The Nun’s Story (1959, Color), and The Children’s Hour (1961, B& W). Planer never won an Oscar, and, shockingly, he wasn’t even nominated for this film though its beauty is incomparable. Well, of course, in those days, black and white movies still outnumbered color offerings, so competition for one of five slots on Oscar’s final ballot was fierce, indeed. Still, what a smashing enterprise: the blackest blacks, the whitest, crispest, whites, and seemingly every shade of grey in between (way more than fifty, I bet).  The palette is so rich that brings out the textures in every fabric, every landscape, and every surface. For example, has any polished marble floor in any black and white movie ever ever gleamed as much as the one in the opera house featured in the final act?

Oh, and about that marble floor. The art direction by legendary Alexander Golitzen (14 Oscar nods, 3 wins) is miraculous in its completeness.  Has Vienna, and the less glamorous  Linz, ever looked so lushly romantic?  Well, of course, it’s strictly old Hollywood magic, with all of it created on studio soundstages and backlots. Oh, and the movie opens with a late night downpour, another tricky technical feat.

Lush visuals aside, Letter from an Unknown Woman benefits immensely from Fontaine’s magnificent performance. Indeed, I think this is one of the most remarkable feats of acting I’ve ever witnessed, and Fontaine’s omission from the Academy’s roll call is hard to reconcile. I hate to go so far as it to call it an injustice since I don’t know that the Oscars have anything to do with justice. Indeed, I’m pretty sure justice has nothing to do it. I would call it unfathomable, but even then I’m not sure that’s the case, but it is perplexing and more than a little regrettable.

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In the movie’s final act, the now fully grown Lisa wears elegant updos, full makeup, and the wardrobe of a well-connected society matron. Also, whereas Fontaine as the younger Lisa speaks softly, hesitantly, and wistfully, her voice changes over the course of the picture.  The adult Lisa speaks confidently, drawing from her lower register  and adding a slight lilt to her impeccable diction.

That noted, Fontaine’s portrayal captures my imagination and damn near leaves me breathless with every viewing; most of the time, it’s so nuanced that it doesn’t even seem like acting, but, then, wait a second: Fontaine is a grown woman enacting the role of a girl who’s still very much unformed; however, that’s part of what makes this movie so utterly compelling. Opuls invites viewers to take a lifelong journey with this character, starting from about the exact moment when she feels the first stirring of sexual longing, even if she can’t fully process it.  I saw hints of something similar in Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, but whereas Solondz’s movie is an edgy black comedy about junior high (middle school) in the ‘burbs, Letter from an Unknown Woman is grand and tragic.

Of course, as I mentioned previously,  a lot of what the young Lisa does comes across  like stalking, and that’s because, well, that’s exactly what she’s doing. I don’t necessarily think the filmmakers condone it, per se, but I do think context is everything; after all, Lisa is a still a child, so she thinks and behaves like one.  Plus she never puts herself or her intended in any danger.  One very old and wise critic once observed that we should all beware movies that present audiences with a thesis statement of some kind. Yikes!  Even so, I think that Opuls might very well have a thesis here, and I think he needed an actress as gifted or skilled as Fontaine to make it work, so here goes: Romantic love makes a school girl feel like a grown woman and makes a grown woman feel like a school girl; however, whereas the young Lisa is impossibly controlled by her urges, the more mature Lisa has seen enough and has lived long enough to know when to let go.  Even so, when she breaks, to quote Dylan, “she breaks just like a little girl.” With this in mind, the entire film hinges on Fontaine’s ability to portray Lisa as both a starry-eyed lass and a wizened adult.  Casting a child actress to play the character during the first third or so (as is sometimes the case when a character ages significantly from beginning to end) simply would not make sense as the emotional arc has to be projected through a single lens, a single instrument.

I also mentioned earlier that ‘unfathomable’ would not be the best word to describe Fontaine’s omission from that year’s Oscar honor roll because in some ways it is indeed possible to see the situation from another viewpoint. First, there’s the possibility that Fontaine’s movie was simply not much of a hit in its time, and that can often be a factor when it comes to awards recognition. Also, and possibly most significantly, is the notion that at first glance, Fontaine isn’t doing anything in this movie that she hadn’t already done in the likes of Rebecca, Suspicion, and The Constant Nymph, that is,  that she’d already played one too many naive brides or school girls with unhealthy crushes on older men (as most apparent in the flick opposite Charles Boyer).  In every case, Fontaine’s heroines can’t seem to separate themselves from the men they so love, adore, worship, etc. even though that, what? tunnel vision doesn’t always work out so well. If Fontaine was “penalized” by Academy voters because this movie too closely resembled earlier efforts, that’s too bad because this indeed is the real deal. It feels fresh with every viewing, and its reputation has grown immensely over the years whereas, say, Suspicion is arguably more famous for Grant and that spookily lit glass of milk than it is for Fontaine’s Oscar winning work.

Also, in 1948, people were just wild over Jane Wyman’s work as a deaf character in Johnny Belinda. Well everybody except Wyman’s soon-to-be-ex, Ronald Reagan (the future President of the United States) who apparently cracked wise that his wife’s commitment to the role helped destroy their marriage. At any rate, the critics loved Wyman, the public responded enthusiastically, and an Oscar frontrunner was born. If that weren’t enough, Fontaine’s sister Olivia de Havilland  earned raves in the previously noted The Snake Pit, which like Johnny Belinda was also a big hit. Furthermore, on hand to make the race even tighter was perennial Oscar bridesmaid Barbara Stanwyck in the suspense classic Sorry, Wrong Number (which would be Stanwyck’s final Oscar contender). Regardless, Fontaine in Letter from an Unknown Woman more than holds her own against the likes of the Academy’s of all-time greats, such as Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind), Holly Hunter (The Piano), Maggie Smith (The Prime of Miss jean Brodie) and a few others. I even think Fontaine transcends parts of all of those in certain scenes. I especially think she’s more convincing as a teen than Leigh is in the opening scenes of Gone with the Wind–and Fontaine was actually older when she filmed her movie than Leigh was during production of GWTW.

Of course, you need not take my word for it; after all, as I noted, Letter from an Unknown Woman‘s reputation has grown immensely in the 65 years since it was first released.  For example, writing in his 1993 book Alternate Oscars, Danny Peary takes away Wyman’s Oscar and gives it to Fontaine (though he keeps de Havilland as the sole runner-up); moreover, in 1992, the Library of Congress ushered the film into the National Film Registry as a classic American film worth preserving, That’s a big deal.  I’d read about Letter… for a number of years before the  registry  induction or the Peary book; however, my curiosity, as well as my determination, surged in light of those developments since they pretty much occurred back-to-back. Well, it took several years,  but it finally happened.  The trouble was that for the longest time, Letter… was out of circulation in the U.S. (who knows why–something legal, I’m sure) though it was available in other countries, meaning other formats.  I don’t want to say that my first copy was a bootleg, because it really wasn’t,  but it was difficult to obtain. Luckily, Olive Films, the same company that resurrected HIgh Noon, Johnny Guitar, The Quiet Man, and a few others, brought back Letter...earlier in this year. Alas, there are no extra features on this edition though the picture quality is superb.

Of course, you might ask what’s so great, original, or otherwise distinctly American about this movie that it’s worthy of being  considered a certifiable classic, per the LOC? After all, the text’s origin is Austrian; the director hailed from Germany; the leading lady was British, and the leading man was French. Maybe what makes it so American is that Hollywood often attracts the best talent from all over the world.

I think the easy answer is that it represents a whole genre, the “woman’s picture,” that really no longer exists, which is  not to say that today’s top actresses never catch a break, but the types of movies they’re offered have changed. Of course, the whole nature of moviemaking has also changed, and that’s something else significant about Letter from an Unknown Woman. Back in the day, big studios regularly cranked out film after film, more often than not, shot on Hollywood soundstages and backlots. Almost no era or destination seemed beyond the reach of dedicated designers and crafts persons. Indeed, Letter from an Unknown Woman is no exception. Again, it unfolds in a stunningly detailed recreation of Vienna, via the fabled Universal  facilities,  that might very well be too ‘magical” to be true though it’s still a  hell of an illusion, made even more thrilling by the fact that it’s in black and white, which is actually more difficult than it seems at first glance,  After all, designing in color, while  by no means rote, is relatively straightforward when compared to the intricacies of preparing a film in black and white, which calls for extraordinary attention to textures, contrasts, and shading so that multitudes of colors are suggested yet balanced. Just as almost nothing in any film is ever really left to chance, the same is especially true in a black and white production. It’s not as simple as replacing one kind of film stock for another. Every element must be  carefully considered knowing that the finished product will not have the advantage of  the full color spectrum. (I intend to review a movie soon enough that will show how this  can go wrong. ) As I told a friend just recently, Letter from an Unknown Woman is the Barry Lyndon of black and white films.  It’s so rich, and does what it does so well, that I can’t even imagine wanting to see it in color.

Btw:  Though you will not see Fontaine’s name in the credits as one of the film’s executives, the truth is that Letter, while shot on the Universal lot (per the IMDb) was actually produced through Rampart, the company she established with her then husband, William Dozier (who would later produce–and provide voiceovers for–the short-lived TV sensation Batman).  Also, John Houseman serves as the film’s producer. Houseman, one of the key players in the founding of the influential Mercury Theatre group, which later became synonymous with Orson Welles, is also remembered as a giant among acting coaches who won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor (The Paper Chase, 1973), which was his first film role of any consequence after decades of working behind the scenes.

Fascinating stuff about Houseman, but not as fascinating as the woman herself. Still, 3,000 words is a bit long for a lover letter that I began writing a few months ago.

Happy birthday, Ms. Fontaine.

Stranded in the Cosmos: Oh, Sandy….*

17 Oct

* With apologies to John Travolta and the rest of the Grease crew…

Congratulations to director Alfonso Cuarón and actress Sandra Bullock on the phenomenal success of their film Gravity, which has blasted all competition at the box office for the past two weekends.  So far, Gravity has earned $120 million+ at the domestic box office over the course of about 10 days.  Its first weekend take was 55 million; this past weekend, it pulled in a staggering 44 million, an almost unheard of drop of only 20%.  A rare feat, that; moreover, it did so against tough competition, and by that I mean two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks in the riveting, fact-based Captain Phillips.  His film pulled in 26 million, which is indeed quite a bit of money, and a noticeable improvement over this titan’s last few efforts [1], but it’s still almost 20 million less than what Gravity earned in the same period. Now, of course,  part of the discrepancy can be traced back to the fact that Gravity is also playing in 3D IMAX presentations, and that equals higher ticket prices, so there’s that. Plus, Gravity clocks-in at a tidy 90 minutes compared to 134 minutes for Captain Phillips. Simply, the Cuarón-Bullock collaboration can be played more times per day than the Hanks film, which also increases the chances for hefty ticket sales.

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^ Sandra Bullock in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity: If you don’t believe that she is facing a disastrous turn of events in real time, there is no movie. A friend who has been convalescing after a nasty fall asked me why everyone is raving about Bullock but not doing the same for co-star George Clooney. Okay, no spoilers, but even though Clooney is a welcome presence, the truth is almost any actor could have played his part.

I don’t know if Cuarón’s movie will stand the test of time–well, do any of us ever know such a thing?–but it’s definitely the movie of the moment, and it’s definitely an artistic triumph as well as a technological breakthrough.  Allow me to backtrack just a bit. You know,  I have played around at screenwriting off and on for two decades, and one lesson that I learned, which seems easier in theory than it is in practice (at least for newcomers), is that film is a visual medium. “Make it more visual, ” my screenwriting instructor advised. Ditto my agent. Most novice screenwriters forget to let the action and other visual details tell the story; the tendency is to have the characters constantly explain themselves through over emphatic dialogue (sort of like old school daytime dramas, or soap operas, a relic of the era when such shows were aired on radio). Well, some films are still too talky, but that’s beside the point.  At any rate, over the years, I became much more adept at making my screenplays visual, and I was willing to make more risks as a result. Even so, I’m stunned when a director such as Cuarón has, for lack of a better word, the vision to make a movie as stunning and as complete as this one.

The plot, in case you haven’t heard already, concerns a pair of astronauts (Bullock and George Clooney) who encounter the unthinkable–debris from an exploded satellite hurtling through space–while engaged in a mission outside the confines of their space station. Before too long, the pair are floating through space, not quite lost but definitely with limited resources–and that includes ever-dwindling amounts of oxygen. Not to mention the fact that their ship is all but obliterated. I have to say that this is probably the most excruciatingly intense movie I have ever had the good fortune of sitting through–so much so that I don’t even mind ending my thought with a dangling preposition.  Most of the people I know who have seen Gravity have gone the 3D IMAX route, but I’m not  a huge fan of either format. Still, I have joked that the movie was so intense that I left bruises and nail prints on Michael’s forearm because I was clutching it like mad the whole time, and with every new twist, my nails just dug deeper. Poor guy.

The vision part, of course, comes from the simple fact that Cuarón did not have the luxury, well, you know, of actually shooting in space. Instead, he had to make his vision come to life on the confines of a soundstage (and at least one water tank) with actors suspended on wires in front of either green screens or a bank of lights to help simulate movement. The dregs of space were digitally composited later in post production, but that’s not all. Cuarón and his favorite cinematographer, the great Emmanuel Lubezki, up the ante by backing away from rapid-fire editing effects and instead achieve a kind of ballet with camera movement, gracefully circling up, down, and all around the actors. The effect is damn near seamless, but, again, it didn’t just happen as Cuarón and Lubezki had to plan, plan, plan how to achieve each and every effect (knowing that 3D was always part of the plan) while also not forgetting to keep the story moving and to take into the account the burdens faced by the actors to work in such conditions. Mind-boggling. Plus, there’s that nifty trick of telling a story with limited amounts of dialogue–dialogue that is perfunctory at best. And, again, all of this unfolds in 90 minutes of real-time suspense.

Gravity has been one of the two most buzzed about movies since the rush of film festivals in August and September, the other being the fact-based 12 Years a Slave, which I can barely wait to see as well,  With these two films poised, as of this moment, to reap numerous Oscar nods, this could turn out to be a real horse race as movie insiders used to say.  Btw: Cuarón’s other credits include Children of Men (2006) and my all-time favorite Harry Potter entry: The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). In between that entry and the acclaimed A Little Princess (1995), both of them geared primarily toward younger viewers, he squeezed in the Oscar nominated, and quite adult Y Tu Mama Tambien, co-starring hunkalicious Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.

I’d be especially grateful to the Academy if voters could finally find it within themselves to honor Lubezki, a five-time nominee most recently in the game for Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. Before that, he seemed destined to win for Cuarón’s dystopian Children of Men (starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore). Lubezki actually won the American Society of Cinematographers award for both movies [2], so losing the Oscar, not once but twice, was a bit of a shocker. That he lost for Tree of Life seems a bit of a puzzler at first; after all, Malick’s movie was marked by one gorgeous image after another, much of it nature based and, reportedly, often without a lot of artificial lighting effects. Once upon a time,  it seemed as though the Oscar for Best Cinematography was earmarked for the film that had the most landscapes, sweeping vistas, etc., the thought being that Oscars were based more on what was actually being filmed rather than anything resembling technical expertise; however, a shift occurred beginning with Avatar and other movies conceived as 3D epics, such as Hugo (which bested Tree of Life) and 2012’s Life of Pi.  Maybe Lubezki will benefit from this new trend–or maybe he’ll suffer the inevitable backlash.

Speaking of backlash, let’s all rejoice for Sandra Bullock and her latest triumph. “Backlash,” you ask, “What backlash?” Well, let’s just say I’m extremely happy for Bullock, and she is likely to reap another Oscar nod, deservedly so, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Most of my readers surely know that Bullock won a Best Actress Oscar for  2009’s The Blind Side, a massively popular holiday offering (perfect for family viewing) based on the true story of an under-resourced high school student who eventually becomes a professional football star after being adopted by a family of considerable means (with Bullock on board as the fiercely protective adoptive mother). The role allowed Bullock to portray a strong, confident woman who, as the title suggests, gets thrown for a loop when she finds herself overcome with feelings she wasn’t aware she had. Even so, the actress played it subtly rather than go “big.” It’s a miracle that Oscar even noticed a performance that was so well-modulated.

Bullock’s Oscar victory took on the air of a fairy tale, as she had toiled for years in the business without so much as a nomination. Plus,  she had starred in two huge hits in the same calendar year: The Proposal (a somewhat mean spirited, yet popular, romantic comedy), and, of course, The Blind Side, which not only broke the $200 million mark  domestically but also became the biggest grossing movie EVER to feature an actress billed solo above the title. Nice work if you can get it.

So Bullock won her Oscar, and all was right with the world. Wrong! Barely a week passed before the actress split from her husband (what’s-his-name) after revelations that he was a serial adulterer. I can’t imagine, and I really cannot, what it would be like to have the apex of your career followed so closely by a colossal personal undoing.  Furthermore, if that weren’t enough, Bullock had no sooner won her award than all the naysayers started pooh-poohing her film, even going so far as to blame it for the Academy’s ever dwindling relevance. Such mean-spiritedness.  Well, I think it was Bette Davis who once said, regarding the talented yet controversial Debra Winger, birds only pick at the ripest fruit, so, yeah, I’d love see Bullock back in the race, dishing it right back to all the haters, oh, and of course, dishing it back to what’s-his-name.

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Watching Sandra Bullock in Gravity is often like watching an underwater ballet. When she isn’t trying to act while wearing a bulky space suit, she’s stripped down to allow for maxium fluidity of movement.

Also, Bullock’s performance is yet another marvel in a film chock-full of marvelous things. While Gravity is first and foremost a testament to Cuarón’s considerable gifts (that would be Cuarón’s and Lubezki’s gifts, actually), from an audience’s standpoint, Bullock is what drives the film and gives it heart.  Plus, how she achieves what she does, giving the audience a character to root for, isn’t as easy as she makes it look. After all, what it looks like is that dear, dear Sandy is lost in space without much hope to keep her going; however, the reality is much, much different.  As already noted, here are just a few things Bullock had to do during production: she had be suspended in a harness for considerable amounts of time while an intricately engineered camera swung to and fro all around her, reportedly coming within inches of her face at times, yet all the while she had to remain in character and had to remember where in the story  (the character’s arc) she was supposed to be, maybe not the easiest thing to do when all you have to look at are green screens and/or banks of lights.  How do you convincingly portray life and death terror amid such sterile, non-threatening circumstance? Likewise, sometimes she was required to act while submerged in a tank though, of course, she had to act as though she were  not in a tank. Again, she had to focus on staying in character and reacting to what the audience would be seeing much, much, later. To do required great imagination as well as concentration though this is not to say that I think she’s a shoo-in to collect another statuette, but the prospects for a nod seem more likely than not.

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^ Bullock (l) shooting a sequence inside a tank. Now that’s dedication. I believe that’s Lubezki on the right though it could be Cuaron.

What’s interesting about all this Bullock buzz is that what the actress is doing in Gravity isn’t too far removed from her role in Speed (1994), the movie that gave her a breakout role after years of second-tier duty. Remember, in Speed Bullock played a passenger (a down on her luck bank teller as I recall) who ended up driving a bus rigged with explosives, and she had to keep driving and keep driving through one high stakes turn after another.  The explosives are set to detonate if the bus slows down below 50 mph, so it’s up to Bullock’s character to drive at all costs while the experts  (led by Keanu Reeves) try to locate and disarm the bomb.  What I always loved about Bullock in Speed was the degree of dedication and energy she brought to the role. After all, she was more “acting” the part of a bus driver rather than actively driving the bus, but her task was to make the audience absolutely believe that  she was navigating an unwieldy vehicle through treacherous terrain, mostly in real-time. She had to pump a lot of  life into a tricky, demanding role and make it seem natural even though nothing about it was natural.  At the time, I was all up in arms that Bullock did not get more year-end recognition, mainly an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress. (If you were following me that year, you should have it in the notes.) That’s how singular I believed her performance to be. Nineteen years later, yes, nineteen whole years, Bullock is being praised, and poised for yet another Oscar, for once again drawing on her particular talent for taking risks, being relatable on camera,  and rising above the minutia of details that come with big budget action films, the difference being that she somehow goes deeper within herself in order to create a fascinating example of screen acting.

Oh, and another thing: I read somewhere that Bullock wasn’t even Cuarón’s first choice. According to multiple reports, Bullock was only approached after Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, and Natalie Portman, among others, were either rejected or were unable to commit. Jolie was even asked twice. Well, Jolie can certainly portray strength as well as vulnerability, but sometimes her movie star persona overwhelms her while Portman has the vulnerability but not necessarily the strength.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this remarkable movie and the actress who has helped an extraordinary director turn his vision into reality. What a treat for moviegoers all over the world. And, oh yeah, I’d love to see Bullock kick the totally unwarranted Carrie remake into Kingdom Come–or farther across the cosmos–this weekend. FYI to Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, and Brian de Palma: try to look away and you should be fine. I know that’s what I plan to do.  [Update: In its third weekend (Oct. 18-20), Gravity still held on to the #1 spot while Carrie, arguably the worst idea, at least for remake, since Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Pyscho folly, came in at #3–after Captain Phillips. Carrie might get a jolt as Halloween approaches, but it will be forgotten quickly.]

Thanks for your consideration….

[1] That would be such non-starters as Cloud Atlas and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which also starred Bullock.

[2] Okay, here’s my favorite Lubezki story, and I often repeat it whenever I see an opening.  Okay, back in the days when I was still working in movie theatres, I used to do a mini lobby display of all the nominees for the American Society of Cinematographers award. Because this particular honor is not as high profile as, say, the Oscars, the Globes, or even the Directors Guild Award, it was not often covered in the mainstream press; therefore, I would often take it upon myself to call the ASC headquarters in California to learn the names/films of the nominees. This was also an era in which the Internet was not as available as it is now. Anyway, In 1995, there was one movie that, to me, stood out among all rest visually speaking. That movie was A Walk in the Clouds, directed by Alfonso Arau (Like Water for Chocolate) and starring Keanu Reeves;  it’s an American take, set in beautiful California wine country, on Italy’s Four Steps in the Clouds from the 1940s. At any rate, Lubezki was the cinematographer on Arau’s film, and his lush imagery just blew me away. Unfortunately, he was not in the running for that year’s ASC award–announced prior to the Academy’s roll call–and I expressed my shock over the omission to the woman I spoke with at the ASC, and that’s when she told me that there had been more discussion about that apparent oversight that morning than there had been regarding any other film.  Well, at least I felt better knowing that I wasn’t alone. At any rate, a week or two later, when Oscars nods were unveiled, Lubezki was at least on the shortlist–but not for A Walk in the Clouds. Instead, he was in the running for his first film for the other Alfonso (Cuarón), A Little Princess, which came out the same year. Nice story, right?

Gravity at Box Office Mojo: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=gravity.htm

 Cuarón at the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0190859/

Lubezki at the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0523881/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Bullock makes box office history with The Blind Side: http://www.accesshollywood.com/sandra-bullock-makes-box-office-history-with-the-blind-side_article_27324

New York Post article about the search for just the right actress to play the lead in Gravity:

http://nypost.com/2013/10/08/5-actresses-who-almost-starred-in-gravity/

The Rachel Effect

5 Oct
When Rachel McAdams isn't making, or remaking, the same movie, she's stretching herself by appearing in little seen films, such as Terrence Malick's To the Wonder (co-starring Ben Affleck) and Brian de Palma's Passion (with Noomi Rapace).

When Rachel McAdams isn’t making, or remaking, the same movie, she’s stretching herself by appearing in little seen films by such directors as  Terrence Malick  (To the Wonder co-starring Ben Affleck) and Brian De Palma (Passion w/Noomi Rapace).

Back in 2004, Rachel McAdams was on the cusp of becoming Hollywood’s next big A-list actress. In the spring, she was the two-faced, passive-aggressive Queen Bee, Regina George, frenemy to Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron in Mean Girls. In the Tina Fey scripted comedy about high school cliques (taken from Rosalind Wiseman’s non-fiction Queen Bees and Wannabes), George is the rich, pretty girl who has never met a friend she couldn’t stab in the back. McAdams was well into her twenties at the time, a mere seven years younger than Amy Poehler who played her insufferably desperate-to-be-cool mom. Still, McAdams owned Regina George. She wasn’t necessarily the girl that audiences loved to hate–that was just a bonus. What she did was bring shading to the role, humanizing her to the degree that audiences could often see the wheels in Regina’s mind spinning as she lured vulnerable prey into one trap after another with her silken demeanor.  Somehow, Regina just can’t NOT be who she is.  There was something truly cosmic and inspired about the way McAdams inhabited what could have been a stock character.  (This in spite of long, wretched wig that was only marginally more convincing than a mop head.) A few months later, she and Ryan Gosling created movie magic with the old-fashioned love story The Notebook from the Nicholas Sparks novel.  Whereas audiences despised McAdams in Mean Girls, they rooted for her in the WWII era story of star crossed lovers. At that point, McAdams seemed unstoppable.

The very next year, she made good on her success by starring in Wes Craven’s Red Eye, an in-flight suspense flick that managed to ring up quite a few dollars only a year after Jodie Foster took to the not-so-friendly skies in Flight Plan. In the same year, McAdams also appeared in The Wedding Crashers (w/Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan) and The Family Stone (w/Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermont Mulroney, and Luke Wilson).

Things slowed down a little bit after that, but there were all kinds of expectations for McAdams in The Time Traveler’s Wife with Eric Bana (from the best seller by Audrey Niffenegger).  A good friend of mine from Fort Worth came to town when the movie opened, and we saw it together. I actually liked it a lot. I guess McAdams did also…I mean considering that she keeps jumping from one variation to the next.

^ First, 2009’s The Time Traveler’s Wife

^ Then, 2012’s The Vow (a pretty big hit, actually)

^ And now…coming soon…too soon, actually, About Time

I mean, come on, is it just me, or is this getting uncomfortably familiar? Still, it hasn’t all been bad for McAdams. She might not have soared to spectacular heights just yet, but she works often, and she’s had her share of hits; after all,  she scored a role in Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr., and she reunited with Wilson for Woody Allen’s Oscar worthy smash Midnight in Paris, but, hold on, wait just one second…

Thanks for your consideration….

Mia Is Such Sweet Farrow

4 Oct

Okay, y’all, what with all the buzz about Mia Farrow and the scandalous possibilities surrounding the parentage of her son, it seems only natural to repost my love letter to her from earlier in the year and to jump in on the guessing game. I have added a paragraph or two and some photos at the end of the article. Enjoy!

Confessions of a Movie Queen

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…

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