Friday, March 15, 2013

Halle Berry: Women in Film

Sometimes winning an Oscar can be a hard act to follow.  Artistically, a few actresses seemed to go into the Witness Protection Program after they got Hollywood Gold.  After Kim Basinger won Best Supporting Actress for L.A. Confidential, after Mira Sorvino won Best Supporting Actress for Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite and after Gwyneth Paltrow took the Best Actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, where did they go?  Did they get another good script or give another film performance as good since?  Halle Berry, as you know, made Oscar history.  On HBO, she got raves for playing Dorothy Dandridge, the late actress who made Oscar history as the first black woman to get an Oscar nomination in the Best Actress category.  That was for the 1954 musical, Carmen Jones.  Ms. Berry made future Oscar history as the first black woman to win in that category.  She was Best Actress for her performance in the 2001 Southern racial drama, Monster's Ball.

Halle Berry followed her Oscar victory with a performance I feel is just as good as the one she gave in Monster's Ball.  Again, she plays a mother but this character has a happy marriage and a nice life in the suburbs.  Unfortunately, press attention on the film was diverted its opening weekend because of a devastating wildfire in Southern California that caused mass evacuations.  The disaster also affected West Coast box office that weekend.  Ironically, the new Halle Berry film was called Things We Lost in the Fire.  If you're a Berry fan looking for something to rent one weekend, I recommend this movie.  I also highly recommend it if you're a Benicio Del Toro fan.  Wow.  He is so moving here.

This is a story about love, forgiveness, redemption and letting go.  David Duchovney plays Brian, the love of Audrey's life.  She's the love of his.  Berry plays Audrey, the wife and mother who will suddenly and unexpectedly become a widow.

I connected to this couple, not just because I'm the member of an inter-racial family, but because I'm lucky enough to know men like Brian.  He's a good man.  He's a regular guy and a loyal friend.  He has that gift for seeing a buddy's inner scars and going out of his way to provide some emotional comfort.  He can help you spiritually heal.  Brian's friendship is a safe place to fall.  That's why Jerry, in recovery from drugs, loved him.  During Audrey's grief, Jerry re-enters her life.  He shows up for the funeral.
He meets Brian's children.

Eventually, the disenfranchised Jerry is given a place to stay.  The kids like him.  Audrey remains understandably guarded and somewhat unforgiving for his junkie past.

Can Audrey let go of anger the way Jerry needed to let go of drugs?  That's the emotional journey you'll see.  Halle Berry is strong and honest in this performance.  It may look a bit glossy, like a Lifetime TV movie, but there are some raw and complicated emotions in this very well-played story.  Helping Halle deliver some of her finest work was director Susanne Bier. This Danish filmmaker won an Oscar for directing In a Better World.
Her movie was voted Oscar's Best Foreign Language Film of 2010.
Bier's excellent After the Wedding, which she also co-wrote and directed, was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 2006.  Put that one on your "must-see" list.  What a fine film!  After the Wedding stars Mads Mikkelsen.  Come April, American television audiences will see him as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the new NBC series, Hannibal.

Bier drew a beautiful performance out of Benicio Del Toro as the flawed man trying to a help a friend's family move through its grief.  To me, this was an Oscar-nomination worthy performance.  Those Southern California wildfires in October 2007 took a toll this good movie getting a West Coast audience.  Del Toro's exceptional work was overlooked.
You feel Jerry's fragility and inner scars.  Also good is the always reliable John Carroll Lynch as the kind of next door neighbor you wish you had.
His name may not be instantly recognizable, but you've seen his work.  He played Norm, Margie's loving big bear of a Midwest husband in Fargo, directed by the Coen Brothers.
He gave a textbook performance as a suspect in David Fincher's Zodiac.  I booked acting work in two national TV commercials in the same year and I played a recurring character for webisodes on The Onion website.  I booked those roles after the great lessons I learned in classes taught by acting coach Dani Super back in New York.  Her coaching helped me transition from TV host to acting work.  Dani, a noted casting director, taught us how to audition -- how to break down a script for an audition and how to make better, more specific acting choices.  You do not just sit in the chair (if you're seated) and say your lines. Physicality and vocal tone are very important elements to keep in mind during your audition.  That brings me to John Carroll Lynch in Zodiac.  The Zodiac murders have put San Francisco in a state of fear.  Cryptic letters and the killings have become a national headline.  Lynch plays a big guy who is brought in for police questioning.
Watch the actor's body language during the police interrogation scene.  He's trying to put up a tough, non-guilty front.  He's a large, physically imposing man.  But he also realizes the cops suspect that the Zodiac killer could be a homosexual.  So, in addition to trying to be the tough guy under questioning, he's also self-conscious about his movements.  He does not want to move in a way that may make him seem like he's a closeted gay man in San Francisco.  John Carroll Lynch does brilliant physical work in this scene.
His character is in conflict with the cops and in conflict with himself.  It's the quality of work that Dani Super taught us to do in class.  Lynch plays a much sweeter man in Things We Lost in the Fire.  Once again, I feel Susanne Bier directed Halle Berry in her strongest, best performance following her historic Best Actress Oscar win for Monster's Ball.  Berry and Benicio Del Toro are a mighty fine pair in this little-seen 2007 drama.

I'd like to see those two actors team up again.  Full disclosure:  I once auditioned to be in a comedy movie with Halle Berry.  If you read my previous two blogs, one on actor Michael Caine and the other with info on a television feature I taped recently for RLTV, you saw clips of my VH1 celebrity talk shows.  In the early 1990s, after my VH1 years, I signed with my first agent.  He was with a big agency in New York City.  I won't say which one.  I told him I was interested in acting auditions.  I wanted to test for supporting comedy roles -- like the wise-cracking playwright best friend and roommate Bill Murray played in Tootsie.  My agent submitted me to audition for Strictly Business.

I was submitted to play "Bobby," the home-boy mailroom employee in a white-collar firm.

First of all, I went into the audition knowing full well that I was ten years too old for the part.  Comedian Tommy Davidson got the role.   Second, well...let's just say that I wondered if my blond agent had even looked at my demo reel.  He and I parted company a little over a year later after he got me an audition to play one of the two voodoo-performing black crooks in the sequel to the corpse comedy, Weekend at Bernie's.

I'm just not the voodoo thug type.

Check out Susanne Bier's Things We Lost in the Fire.  And her foreign film, After the Wedding.  In that, too, worlds collide and come together.  There's a Danish man who helps poor children in India and a rich father who offers him a $4 million donation to help the Bombay orphans if he attends his daughter's ritzy wedding in Denmark.  If you're in the New York City area and need a coach to help you with your acting, consider Dani.  Here's her link:

Tell her that I sent you.

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