Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sally Field and Movie Men

Before I talk about a couple of Oscar nominated actors, let me tell you about a new gig that 2-time Best Actress Oscar winner Sally Field has.  Come this March, she will be the new co-host of The Essentials on TCM Saturdays with Robert Osborne.  Although I would love to see some ethnic talent be added to the mix of Turner Classic Movies guest presenters, Sally Field is a terrific booking.  She's a strong actress who knows films and has appreciated classic films ever since she was a kid.  We both grew up in Southern California and watched many Hollywood classics on local KTTV/Ch. 11.  They were hosted in the afternoons by a friendly man named Ben Hunter.  Field mentioned Ben Hunter when she was a TCM Guest Programmer one weeknight.  The Oscar winner follows other actor co-hosts of The Essentials such as Alec Baldwin and Drew Barrymore.

Sally worked with top actors from Hollywood's Golden Age and has worked in some highly significant features.  After her ABC sitcom years as Gidget and The Flying Nun and before she wowed critics with her dramatic Oscar-winning chops in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart, she starred in ABC made-for-TV movies.  One starred Eleanor Parker and Jackie Cooper.  Sally played a runway teen and they played her parents in 1971's Maybe I'll Come Home In The Spring.  The other also starred Eleanor Parker along with Walter Brennan and Julie Harris.  (Harris and Field would both add the roles of Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, to their credits.)  Eleanor Parker and Sally Field were relatives again in 1972's Home For The Holidays, a most entertaining Christmastime murder mystery TV movie written by Joseph Stefano.  He should've received an Oscar nomination for writing one of Hollywood's best and most influential screenplays.  Stefano wrote 1960's Psycho, the Alfred Hitchcock classic.  Newcomer Sally held her own with Hollywood veterans like the floral-printed Eleanor Parker.

Sally's friend, Jane Fonda, turned down the script that brought Field her first Oscar.  Jill Clayburgh and Tuesday Weld also passed on the part.  Sally Field and I talked about this when she was a guest on my old VH1 celebrity talk show.  In Norma Rae, Sally Field was directed by Martin Ritt, the outstanding director who also gave us Hud, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, The Great White Hope and Sounder.

Sally Field, with her perseverance and fortitude in a most unorthodox career, has been a major inspiration to me in my career.  I'll be watching her on TCM.  And if Norma Rae is not one of The Essentials, it should be.  Field's three Oscar nominations came for 1979's Norma Rae (Best Actress win)....
....1984's Places In The Heart (Best Actress win)....

...and Steven Spielberg's 2012 biographical drama, Lincoln (Best Supporting Actress).
In my previous post, Still Life and Eastwood Action, I reviewed a tender new film about a British gent who gives dignity to the recently deceased and American Sniper, an Iraq war film directed by Clint Eastwood about a Marine who made over 100 people the recently deceased.  He had over 100 kills to his credit in his tours of duty.  The horrors of war were seen through the eyes of Bradley Cooper's character as he took deadly aim on foreign man, woman and child to protect his troops.  American Sniper is based on the real life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.  Under Eastwood's direction, the gun is a like a large phallic symbol relentlessly shooting the spunk of post-9/11 U.S.A. ammo in your face.

I like Bradley Cooper.  He's a serious, committed young actor.  He bulked up to play this military role.  He's a Best Actor Oscar nominee for American Sniper.  A film critic buddy of mine commented that Cooper got nominated for "putting on 40 pounds."  I responded, "Then I should have 10 Oscar nominations to my credit.  And I should have a special Lifetime Achievement Oscar for my ass."  Bless his heart that American Sniper got him an Oscar nomination.  I was surprised.  I'd have tapped David Oyelowo for Selma, Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Bupadest Hotel, Chadwick Boseman as singer James Brown in Get On Up, Tom Hardy for Locke or Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler.  But The Academy digs it when a handsome actor puts on a lot of weight for a role.  Robert De Niro won an Oscar for Raging Bull.  George Clooney got one for Syriana.  Bradley Cooper is a bear with a bullet in this box office hit.
As a feature film, I didn't think American Sniper was one of Eastwood's best directorial efforts.  I didn't find the screenplay as fully realized as those in other war-related films such as Coming Home with Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern, Jarhead and The Hurt Locker.  It lacks the clarity and complexity of a classic such as 1966's The Battle of Algiers.  But it shows what an unpredictable organization The Academy is.  American Sniper got 6 nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor.  If it wins for Best Picture, Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper get Oscars because they were producers of the picture.  There can now be up to 10 nominees for Best Picture.  This month, we got 8.  Truly fine films like Wild with a wonderful performance from Reese Witherspoon and the British film, Pride, didn't make the cut to give us an even 10.  Why?!?!

Ed Norton, one of my favorite actors, is in the Best Supporting Actor Oscar category for Birdman.  He's the egotistical, annoying and talented young Broadway actor in Birdman.  (I think he's doing a slight riff on William Hurt in it.)  Norton was also excellent as the fast-talking police officer with the handlebar mustache in The Grand Bupadest Hotel.  


To see some of the other excellence and remarkable versatility of Ed Norton, watch him as the racist skinhead in American History X, see his musical comedy performance in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, follow that with Fight Club and then watch his outstanding work as the British doctor punishing his wife for her marital infidelity in The Painted Veil. She must leave posh London -- and her lover -- to accompany him on a medical trip to disease-infested and poverty-stricken China.  Norton and Naomi Watts were at their peak in this fine movie, previously made in the 1930s as a star vehicle for Greta Garbo.  The new adaptation was one of my Top Ten favorite films of 2006.  Top film critics loved it.  The Painted Veil didn't get one single Oscar nomination.  I still can't believe the Oscars overlooked it.  The Painted Veil has qualities of classics that directors William Wyler, David Lean and Fred Zinnemann gave us.

Ed Norton and Naomi Watts reteamed as a couple in Birdman.

From Hollywood's Golden Age, actors such as Joel McCrea, Myrna Loy, Edward G. Robinson, Ward Bond and Jack Carson -- people who did great work in some true Hollywood classics -- never got a single Oscar nomination in their long film careers.  Talented modern era actors such as Mia Farrow, Donald Sutherland, Richard Gere and Dennis Quaid have never received an Oscar nomination.  Gifted black and Latino performers such as Rita Moreno, Ruby Dee, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Rosie Perez and Halle Berry have only one Oscar nomination to their credits.  Jennifer Lawrence, still in her 20s, has three Oscar nominations on her resumé and one Best Actress victory for Silver Linings Playbook.  That's the Academy.

I mentioned Tom Hardy's performance in Locke.  He's brilliant in that movie.  He's the only actor you see in it.  Everyone else is heard on a phone in his car.  It's the story of a flawed guy, a businessman and a family man in England, who takes responsibility for his mistakes on his road of life while he's in the car driving.  He's so good.  When I saw American Sniper, Hardy was in the coming attractions before the feature film.  He'll be our new Mad Max.  Here is my current favorite new trailer.

Now go watch some of the current or classic films that I've mentioned in this post.  And thanks for reading it.





Friday, January 23, 2015

STILL LIFE and Eastwood Action

Could there be a more blue collar, working class face than the one pinned on that fine actor, Eddie Marsan?  You may recognize this Brit from the Showtime TV series, Ray Donovan.  He plays the boxer stricken with Parkinson's disease on the series.

I first really noticed him when he played probably the most short-tempered driving instructor in England in a car with the most chipper and the steeliest optimist you'd ever want to meet.  In Mike Leigh's 2008 film, Happy-Go-Lucky, Sally Hawkins played Poppy, the woman whose bright outlook on life cannot be darkened.  Even as her instructor's temper explodes.

It's a wonderful film, worth renting.

Eddie Marsan gives a beauty of a performance playing a man who's the opposite of his Happy-Go-Lucky character.  If you're a fan of the 1959 British classic starring Alec Guinness, Last Holiday, I think you'll enjoy Marsan's new film.  There's a light touch of the Last Holiday about it.  STILL LIFE stars Eddie Marsan as a man who works to bring dignity to the deceased.  A simple and gentle man, dedicated to his job, he's a case worker who contacts relatives of the recently deceased and requests their involvement in funeral services.  The dead people died alone with no loved ones keeping in constant contact.  He himself is like the dead.  There is no loved one who keeps in touch with him.  He lives alone.  He eats alone.

At several church funeral services, this case worker is the only person in attendance.  Some of the surviving next-of-kin he contacts are real characters.
It appears to be a sterile, drab job -- much like his life.  There are no frills in the office.  There are no frills in his home life.  But he's not without passion.  He truly cares about providing some dignity for the dead.  He wants them to be remembered.  He sorts through personal effects of the deceased to find information on surviving relatives.  As he goes about his commitment to the deceased and contacts relatives, his life begins to change and take on some color.  Something sweet and unexpected comes into his life.

Still Life has a gentle, unassuming pace which matches the personality of its lead character.  That does not mean it's a dull movie.  Case worker John May is not a dull man.  Marsan is quite compelling in this role.  He brings nice layers to this ordinary, overlooked fellow.  It's a lovely and intelligent performance.  In a way, it's like you watch this sweet case worker come to life.  The end of the movie is one of the most poignant I've experienced in a long time.  I recommend Still Life, a warm British import directed by Uberto Pasolini.

The exact opposite of Still Life is AMERICAN SNIPER directed by Clint Eastwood.  Bradley Cooper's performance brought him an Oscar nomination this month for Best Actor.  The film is nominated for Best Picture.
When it first came out, I didn't know it's basically a biopic.  This is based on the real-life story of a Navy SEAL who did over 1000 days "in country," in the Iraqi war, and had over 100 kills to his military record.  This is a "war is hell" movie.  Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was a Texan who enlisted for service and is deployed after the attacks of September 11th.  In the open of film, youngster Chris Kyle is at the dinner table with the family.  His country macho father tells his boys that there "sheep, wolves and sheepdogs."  He instructs them to take care of their own, protect their people from wolves.  Their sheepish mother wearing large eyeglasses says nothing at the table as the father talks, removes his belt and places it on the table so the boys will know that's what they'll get they don't follow his orders.  This early scene is not a well-written one nor is it well-directed.  It looks like it could've easily been lampooned on Saturday Night Live by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader.  Chris wants be a cowboy when he grows up.  Years later, he is one decked out cowboy.  The  cowboy then becomes a Navy SEAL.  He followed his father's orders.

Kyle is family man.  Sienna Miller plays his wife.  They met in a country bar.  She was one tough customer, shooting down advances from guys who weren't sincere.  Chris turns out to be an absolute gentleman.  When she runs outside and pukes, he holds her hair while she does.  It's true love.
True love that carries on during a nightmarish war.  American Sniper is graphic in its war violence.  It's not just man-on-man war.  You see man, woman and child being taken down by the sniper's bullets.  There's a lot of gunfire in this film.  Kyle was nicknamed "The Legend" for being one of the U.S.A.'s most praised and most lethal snipers.  The gun, as Cooper's character takes aim in the open of the movie, is photographed like a long phallic symbol as Eastwood has the camera pan across it.  Through the story, the gun will be seen as a weapon, an object of father/son bonding in the woods, and a toy in a married couple's sexy role play.

I didn't find American Sniper as good as other films Eastwood directed -- films like the western, Unforgiven, his Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and his World War 2 films, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.  This is no to disrespect Chris Kyle's military service.  But, as a feature with  this particular screenplay and direction,  American Sniper felt like a movie that would've starred Clint Eastwood in the 1970s, his Dirty Harry years, with Eastwood playing a Vietnam war vet.

Cooper does the best he can here with a war script that really doesn't have much dimension to it.  He looks like a big daddy bear whose job is to protect and serve.  His Kyle is stoic, loving and fierce when he's in battle.  The actor beefed up and grew a beard for the role.  I think modern war-related films like The Hurt Locker, Jarhead and The Messenger (a very good and overlooked 2009 film starring Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster) and the documentary The Tillman Story (about NFL star Pat Tillman who enlisted after the Sept. 11th attacks and was killed in Afghanistan)  are better. Would I have picked Cooper to be in the Best Actor Oscar race?  Not for this one.  I would've gone with David Oyelowo for Selma or Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Those roles and those screenplays had more range and dimension.

We know Bradley Cooper can do comedy.  The Hangover was a bawdy, big box office comedy hit.  His dramatic work in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle earned him two Best Actor Oscar nominations.  The young actor got good notices for his lead work in the Broadway revival of The Elephant Man.  So good, in fact, that he and the cast take the show to London's West End in May.  As for screen veteran Ralph Fiennes,  his energetic screwball comedy turn in The Grand Budapest Hotel was a major revelation and a surprise after seeing him for years in deep-dish dramas like Schindler's List, The English Patient, Quiz Show, The Reader and The Constant Gardener.

At the very end of American Sniper, I wanted to blurt out "What the hell happened?!?!  What motivated that crime?!?!?"  That's all I'm going to tell you.  The point is, this military script left me feeling like it needed a major rewrite.  You know that there's truth in this movie from director Clint Eastwood.  There just needed to be more truth to make the script feel complete. But that's just me.  The Academy obviously loved the movie.




Thursday, January 22, 2015

Aniston Makes CAKE

She's a middle-aged blonde in her nice home in the Los Angeles hills.  She's got Percocet, Oxycontin and a glass of white wine as she watches the handsome Mexican hunk do maintenance work in her backyard.  Quick with a snappy verbal comeback, Claire's quick wit does not hide the fact that she is scarred on the outside and on the inside.  And her support group doesn't seem able to help her ease her chronic pain as well as the hunk cleaning her small pool may be able to.  She needs relief.
Jennifer Aniston is good in this drama called CAKE.  She works hard to make you feel every cramp and sore in Claire's body.  Why is Claire scarred?  There was an accident.  What are the sore spots in her heart?  Who left a hole in it?  Well, that's the woman she talks about in her support group.  Nina, played by Anna Kendrick, committed suicide and visits Claire in dreams.  Claire visits the spot where Nina jumped to her death.  She visits Nina's widower.  What about Claire?  Was she married?
The one person who sees Claire's pain just about every day and tries to keep Claire from doing something loopy that will cause her more pain is her exhausted Mexican housekeeper.  She's pretty much worn out from taking care of the house and being somewhat of a nursemaid to Claire.  Silvana cleans the house.  Silvana cooks. Silvana drives Claire to the freeway overpass when Nina jumped.  Silvana drives her to Tijuana to get a load of prescription drugs.  Claire is nervous she'll get caught smuggling the drugs back across the border.  The pharmacist says, "You're a rich white woman.  Have you ever been caught at anything?"

Adriana Barraza is excellent as the frustrated housekeeper with a family of her own.  Cake is not a movie in which the Mexican housekeeper is pretty much just a household appliance.  Claire and Silvana have history.  That history builds and sparks in Cake.  Silvana is not a one-dimensional character.  Politically liberal Claire is fully aware of class divisions and how they make working class people feel inferior.  When she talks about Orange County, California to Silvana, I broke up laughing.  My parents said the same things about Orange County when I was a little boy in the 1960s.  Some things never change.  I grew up in Los Angeles.  At first, the housekeeper character made me cringe because, once again, here was a movie in which the Mexican woman was a domestic in a California home.  The Mexican-American women in my community were registered nurses, postal employees, schoolteachers, supermarket clerks, office managers, local librarians, dental assistants and such.  I long to see a movie about Southern California suburban characters in which the middle-aged Hispanic woman isn't the domestic help. Just sayin'.  But when Silvana gets fed up in the last act, Adriana Barraza really brought it home in that scene and gives more juice to the housekeeper role.
The title makes sense.  There will be cake.  We will discover Claire's emotional pain.  The big question is...will she have the toughness to move on from all that rage and chronic pain.  Will she come to terms with the suicide of her friend, Nina?

Felicity Huffman does such a marvelous job as the mousey, neurotic support group leader who's intimidated by Claire that you wonder why she didn't have a bunch of other excellent movie scripts after her well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for 2005's Transamerica.
Aniston's Claire is funny, sad, smart, irresponsible, tough, weak, compassionate and -- above all -- human.  It's a smart and risky performance.  It's risky because she dared to challenge her lucrative TV image.  This is a bit like the Farrah Fawcett career move.  Like Fawcett, Aniston was famous for an entertaining TV series (Charlie's Angels) and her hairstyle.  A hairstyle that many female viewers copied.  Farrah Fawcett dropped the glamour, ditched the salon haircare and went dramatic in 1984'a The Burning Bed to gain respectability as an actress.  For her performance as the battered low-income wife who kills her husband, she earned solid reviews for her acting.  It's obvious that Aniston wants to grow as an actress.  In Cake,  Aniston relentlessly pushes herself to be relevant in this middle-aged role and aims to do the actor's work.  Her purpose is to move on from a popular character she played in her youth.  In that regard, the former Friends sitcom star is like Michael Keaton's character in Birdman.  Cake presents the best performance of Jennifer Aniston's film career.  And the most surprising one.  In the category of films in which there's a suicide attempt, this is not as satisfying, not as potent and tender as The Skeleton Twins with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (also known for NBC comedy work) but it does show us a more mature Aniston.  It's interesting to watch her get serious about her film career.  Her previous movie was Horrible Bosses 2.  Sitting through that dog made me want Percocet, Oxycontin and a glass of white wine.  I'll take Cake over Horrible Bosses 2 any day.

I had a very dear friend who made me laugh, who was generous with her time and advice, gave me confidence in my talents, constantly lifted my spirits...and then broke my heart when she killed herself.  Jennifer Aniston knew her too.  They worked together.  She was on the Friends promotional team at NBC.  Gail was very dear to the Friends cast.  I wonder if Aniston called up feelings about her when playing Claire.


Cake opens this Friday, January 23rd.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Overlooked Mike Sargent

The Oscar nominations.  Last week, entertainment news was in a tizzy because of the racial sameness in the Oscar categories for actors and actresses.  The list of nominees was whiter than upper management at Fox News.  David Oyelowo was not a Best Actor nominee for Selma.  Ava DuVernay was not a Best Director nominee for Selma.  I discussed Oscar omissions onscreen and off with TV host, film critic and indie filmmaker, Mike Sargent.   Mike and I talked about Ava DuVernay not getting an Oscar nomination.
This kind of thing is a disappointment for black artists but it's like a birthday party for black people who review movies and cover entertainment news.  Why?  Because we're usually overlooked by mainstream  press the way Oyelowo and DuVernay were overlooked by the Academy.  But, whenever a Hollywood vs. Racial Diversity story hits the fan, suddenly we all get noticed and contacted to make statements on TV shows, on the radio or in print.  We get the kind of attention we've wanted all year long -- and we're asked to help blow out the candles of a flaming racial diversity problem in Hollywood.  With a story like this, network and local news suddenly become like the one white buddy   most of us black dudes have.  We've known him for years and we're his only black friend.  He gets invited to fancy parties and never invites us along.  But, if he has to drive to a function in Oakland at night, we get an invite to be his guest and sit in the front seat of the car.  We're his visual proof that he's liberal.  When this Hollywood controversy is over and things go back to business as usual, will those news stations contact those same black contributors to review the new Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson or Tom Hanks movie?  Will they get contacted to do the Meryl Streep, Amy Adams or Bradley Cooper interview? Nope.

And we should be contacted.
Mike Sargent is the host of a groundbreaking weekly TV show.  Arise On Screen is a half-hour film review and entertainment news show hosted by an African-American male.  He's a film critic.  He presents two different fellow film critics to join him on every show to review new Hollywood films, foreign films and indie features.  It embraces gay and lesbian features, filmmakers and viewers.   I've been proud to be a guest film reviewer several times on the show.  Black men plus women of all colors review movies on Mike's weekly program.  You never saw a TV program like this in the previous century.  Arise On Screen has been on for one year and it gets no attention from TV columnists.  Again, Mike is the first black person to host a weekly film review show that's seen in the U.S. and in foreign markets -- and it gets no attention from TV columnists.
Mike is one smart, scholarly film reviewer and movie fan.  PBS asked him to comment on the recent Oscar nominations.  I was so proud to see him on PBS.  Here's the segment.
Let me drag you kicking and screaming down Black History Memory Lane one more time.  You see the weeknight evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC.  How many times has a black journalist been hired as the weeknight anchor?  Once.  Max Robinson co-anchored on ABC in the late 1970s, early '80s.  Pioneer Max Robinson died in 1988.  How many black, Latino or Asian talents have hosted a late night entertainment talk show on those same networks?  None.  It took NBC's Today Show over 50 years before it added a black woman, Tamron Hall, to its on-air family.  How many weekly movie critics did we see on the network morning news shows when they had weekly critics such as Gene Shalit and Joel Siegel?  We saw no black film critics on a weekly basis.  The syndicated film review shows had Siskel & Ebert, then Ebert & Roeper and then there was the team of Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons.  No black folks were tapped to review movies on TV.  In late August 2013, the excellent Fresh Air hosted by Terry Gross on National Public Radio had "Late Night Week," a week-long salute to late night TV hosts that went back to the Steve Allen and Jack Paar days.  Or nights.  TV critic and historian David Bianculli contributed to each hour-long show.  The one TV host who didn't get a spotlight or a mention at all that entire week?  Arsenio Hall.  The brother who made the cover of TIME magazine because of the success of his late night show.  Arsenio Hall did not get a mention.  But Chevy Chase, Pat Sajak and Seth Myers got mentioned.  Go figure.  I love me some TCM (Turner Classic Movies).  The channel rarely has African-American talent as guest presenters.  Who hosted last October's month-long salute to films about and shot in Africa?  I'll put it in the form of an answer:  This Caucasian Canadian is the host of an intellectual TV game show called Jeopardy!  Yep.  Who is Alex Trebek?  Alex Trebek hosted Salute to Africa month on TCM.

So when I hear that black talent was overlooked for Oscar nominations this year, something in me wants to respond like Claude Rains in Casablanca:  "I'm shocked, SHOCKED..."

In other words, it ain't just branches of The Academy in Hollywood that's overlooking.  It's been done before.

Follow Mike Sargent on Twitter -- @MikeOnScreen.  Watch him weekends on Arise TV's Arise On Screen.  Follow that show on Twitter -- @AriseOnScreen.  If you're in the New York tri-state area, watch Arise TV on Time Warner Ch. 92 or Verizon Ch. 481.  The show airs here and overseas.  It streams online.  For more info, go to the website:  www.arise.tv.  Look for past shows on YouTube.

Arise On Screen is now in its second year.  Please tell the TV columnists.




Monday, January 19, 2015

More About Women in Film

It's not all about the dress.  If you're going to be a journalist, be a journalist.  Do some homework.  Ask some original, thought-provoking questions.  Question the organizations that give us art.  If you call yourself an entertainment journalist and your top question is "Who did your dress?," you're a lazy performer.  Nothing against fashion, mind you.  But putting a woman's contributions to the film arts in second place to her dress and accessories irritates me.

I've written about groundbreaking women directors going back to Dorothy Arzner of 1930s Hollywood, followed by actress/director Ida Lupino in the late 1940s through the 1960s in film and television.  I wrote that there were four women, including Ava DuVernay of Selma, who directed films that became Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  Well, four did.  But...there were more.  Including Ava DuVernay, 12 women have directed films that got Oscar nominations for Best Picture.  Except for Ava, all those other women directors of those Best Picture nominees also directed a castmember or castmembers to an Oscar nomination.  Of those 12 women who directed a Best Picture Oscar nominee -- including Ava -- only 3 received a Best Director nomination for making that Best Picture Oscar nominee.  They were Jane Campion for The Piano (1993, Holly Hunter Oscar winner for Best Actress), Sofia Coppola for Lost In Translation (2003, Bill Murray Oscar nominee for Best Actor) and Kathryn Bigelow.  She made Hollywood history when she won Best Director for The Hurt Locker.  The film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2009 and Jeremy Renner was a nominee for Best Actor.
The night that Kathryn Bigelow won her historic Oscar, I was yelling at the TV screen.  Yelling at lazy entertainment journalists.  2009 was the kind of year in film that just did not happen in the glory days of screen legends like Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck.  Meryl Streep starred in two big studio releases.  Both films were directed by women.  It's Complicated was directed by Nancy Meyers.  The late Nora Ephron directed Julie & Julia.  For Ephron's charming film, Streep became one of the few women in Hollywood history directed to a Best Actress Oscar nomination by a female director.  That same year, we had TWO movies directed by women that went on to be Best Picture Oscar nominees -- The Hurt Locker, Bigelow's film, and An Education.  Lone Scherfig got a radiant performance from Carey Mulligan in An Education, earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination in addition to the Best Picture nomination.  Two Best Picture Oscar nominees directed by women but Red Carpet reporters asked "Who did your dress?"  When The Hurt Locker and An Education were up for Best Picture, that was when the number of eligible nominees had increased from five to ten.  Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig did a beautiful job with An Education.


If you've not seen it, rent it this weekend. Mulligan's screen charisma sparkles.

The following year should've made some entertainment news reporters curious about the way the Academy works -- curious about the diversity of folks on the Academy branches.  Like the branch of directors.

The following year, Debra Granik's Winter's Bone and Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right were nominees for Best Picture, both produced a nominee for Best Actress, but neither was nominated for Best Director.

Kathryn Bigelow made Hollywood history again.  She is now the only woman who has directed two films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.  Some top critics wrote that her film, Zero Dark Thirty, was even better than The Hurt Locker.  It was nominated for Best Picture of 2012.  Jessica Chastain was nominated for Best Actress.
Did Kathryn Bigelow get another nomination for Best Director?  No.
Ava DuVernay did a brilliant job with Selma.  The project was originally attached to another director (Lee Daniels).  She took it over, she did not have a Spielbergian budget, she had to do rewrites on the script (for which she did not get onscreen credit) and she could not use portions of famous Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches because the copyrights are owned by another filmmaker (reportedly, Steven Spielberg).  She had to write "new" speeches for Dr. King.  Last but not least, she cast a British actor as an American icon of the U.S.A's civil rights movement and got an amazing, totally believable performance out of him.

But...like Randa Haines, director of 1986's Children of a Lesser God...
...Penny Marshall, director of 1990's Awakenings...
...and Barbra Streisand, director of 1991's The Prince of Tides...and like other women directors...
...she was denied a Best Director nomination for directing a Best Picture Oscar nominee.

If, as I've read, an Oscar nomination gets you invited into Academy membership...are Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow the only women in the branch of directors?  Are they in the Academy's branch of directors?  I think those findings would be entertainment news worth  reporting.

Personally, I think the Academy should change and update a rule.  I've mentioned this before in a post. I feel that, if a film is nominated for Best Picture, it also gets a nomination for Best Director.  Because the movie did not direct itself.  I think some women would second that emotion.











Friday, January 16, 2015

On THE WEDDING RINGER

"They put stitches in your penis head."  That's a line comedian Kevin Hart has in his new comedy, THE WEDDING RINGER.  That's one of his more tasteful lines in it.

If you did a shot of Schnapps every time Hart drops the F-bomb in this movie, you'd be tipsy after seeing just the first 20 minutes.  A buddy movie, it's the kind of buddy theme that's been done before...and way better...by such comic talents like comedy great, Mel Brooks.  He did this kind of story better when he wrote and directed 1967's The Producers.  Hardcore Kevin Hart fans may give The Wedding Ringer big box office love over the weekend.  He is popular but, in this project, he doesn't have a good screen comedy script.  Marriage-wise, it lacks the bawdy and fresh wit of Bridesmaids.

Fast-talking hipster Jimmy, played by Kevin Hart, is the big city huckster who will become the best friend to the nebbishy guy who has a life as dull as C-Span.  Here, the nebbishy guy needs a best man to appear at his wedding.  He's engaged to a hot blonde whom, we know, doesn't really love him.  Doug has a good job, money and a babe of a fiancee.  However he doesn't have male friends because he so uncool.  He decides to rent-a-best man.  Jimmy heads an agency that fills that need.  He'll be your best friend for a fee at a Jewish wedding.  He'll dress up like a Catholic priest.  He'll supply your groomsmen.  His staff is a team of misfits -- like a dorky Asian guy, a really fat guy, a muscle hunk who stutters, an ex-con in a wheelchair and a flaming gay Mexican wedding planner.  They will be the groom's team.  These are the hired best friends to accompany the hired best man.                                                                                                                            

This odd squad drags Doug into some risky business that shakes the dullness out of his life.  He'll drink.  He'll get a lap dance.  And a dog will lick peanut butter off his balls.  Of course, something will go horribly wrong.  But Doug and Jimmy are bonding.  Doug is having naughty adventures.  Jimmy has been so busy hustling money that he's never had a close buddy himself. Again, Mel Brooks did this kind of thing better in 1967.  Also, you feel like you saw all these sight gags before in 1980s comedies.
Doing a good job as the dork is Josh Gad.  Millions of kids love this actor's work.  He's the speaking and singing voice of Olaf the Snowman in Frozen.  He's got Broadway skills.  Gad was in the Book of Mormon Broadway musical cast.  The Wedding Ringer burdens Gad with a juvenile script.  But his dance number with Hart was pretty cool.


The Wedding Ringer is not quite as sophisticated as 1984's Revenge of the Nerds.  The cast includes Kaley Cuoco from TV's The  Big Bang Theory, veteran actor Ken Howard and NFL great Joe Namath.