Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ruth Gordon: 5 Oscar Nominations

This little lady was one of the biggest talents in Hollywood.  She was making movies in then early 1940s but she really hit her film stride as an actress in the 1960s and 70s.  Ruth Gordon, a Broadway veteran, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Roman Polanski's creepy 1968 occult thriller, Rosemary's Baby starring Mia Farrow.

When I was a teen-ager, fellow students buzzed about how terrifically cool she was in the quirky comedy, Harold and Maude.  This 1971 comedy was a big counter-culture hit with young moviegoers.  Ruth Gordon was a senior sensation at the box office.
If you saw the vibrant, smart Y Tu Mamá También -- a coming of age road movie that was one of the best films of 2001 -- you know it opens with a naked young couple engaged in some passionate lovemaking under a large Harold and Maude movie poster.  That was a clever touch from director Alfonso Cuarón.  Foreshadowing, if you will.

I thought of Ruth Gordon when I watched Michael Keaton be excellent in Birdman.  In that surreal comedy about self-respect, validation and reality, he's an actor whose occasional delusions give a madness to his stage work that makes his performance brilliant.  He's fearless.  He takes risks.  The actor listens to the Birdman voice in his head.

One of Gordon's Oscar nominations came for the classic film drama, A Double Life.  You don't hear this movie get mentioned a lot but, believe me, it's good.  If you liked Ronald Colman in Lost Horizon and Random Harvest, you need to see him in A Double Life as the charming, delusional middle-aged Broadway actor.  He lives his roles.  Like Birdman, he seeks more challenging material.  He doesn't want to do the light entertainment that made him famous.  He lands the great tragic role of Shakespeare's Othello.

His co-star onstage in Othello is his ex-wife.  She still loves him.

He also drifts into a relationship with a sexy blonde waitress (played by Shelley Winters.)
Like Othello, the actor gets jealous.  You get the feeling that this affair will not end well.

The actor offstage and the classic character he plays onstage seem to become one.

His madness in real life makes for a brilliant performance on Broadway.  Ronald Colman won the Oscar for Best Actor of 1947.  He earned it.  What did Ruth Gordon have to do with Colman's Oscar victory?  Listen to my short podcast about this multi-talented woman:

Here's a pic of A Double Life director George Cukor (far left) Ruth Gordon, Garson Kanin and the film's star, Ronald Colman.
Here's a pic of Ruth Gordon and hubby/co-writer Garson Kanin with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

1947's A Double Life.  I'd like to see that one updated and remade starring Idris Elba.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On Jane Fonda in KLUTE

In the 1960s, when she was a screen newcomer whose father was a revered Hollywood film star, Jane Fonda proved herself to be a pro at fluffy, sexy romantic comedies.  She was delightful in those kind of  roles whether she was the single girl working in New York City while looking for Mr. Right or the newlywed whose Mr. Right was Redford Redford in Barefoot in the Park.

Then gorgeous Jane Fonda dug into more challenging characters in screen dramas that put her in the running to become an Oscar-winning screen legend just like her dad, Henry Fonda.

Pretty Woman turned prostitution into a romantic comedy for a whole generation of young female moviegoers.  I like Julia Roberts but....yikes!  If I had an impressionable young daughter, I would not want her to see being a hooker as "cute."  If you know what I mean.

Jane Fonda won her first of two Best Actress Academy Awards for playing a hooker.  A tough New York City hooker.   Not a Disney-esque, perky prostitute like Pretty Woman.  Bree knew the mean streets of Manhattan.  She knew its kinky tricks.  Emotionally, she had a steel exterior.

Young actresses today should see and study this fascinating Jane Fonda screen performance.  Here's my short podcast review of Klute:

 That film has one of my favorite performances not only by Jane Fonda but by Donald Sutherland too.
Jane's second Oscar came for the Vietnam era war drama, Coming Home.  It addressed the plight of disabled veterans and it also won Oscars for Best Actor (Jon Voight) and Best Picture of 1978.  She played the wife of a psychologically fractured Marine (played by Bruce Dern).  She befriends a physically disabled veteran (played by Jon Voight).

This year, we saw Jane Fonda as the widowed loving and independent mother who gathers her adult kids together for their father's unusual funeral service in the comedy, This Is Where I Leave You.  Tina Fey and Jason Bateman co-starred as two of her children.

Ms. Fonda looked fabulous.  She made 76 look like the new 56.  This year, the 2-time Oscar winner and producer of box office hits also became a recipient of AFI Life Achievement Award.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


A Warner Brothers movie star from Hollywood's golden era paved the way for big laughs from a beloved local TV news crew in Minneapolis.

When millions of us baby boomers were kids,  there was one woman who really took a velvet hammer to the Hollywood glass ceiling.  If we were told that a woman directed an episode of a TV western, detective series, a mystery, medical drama or sitcom, we knew that woman was as acclaimed Hollywood actress-turned-film and TV director, Ida Lupino.
In the 1930s and 40s, Ida knocked out some solid movie performances holding her own opposite some of the top male stars of the day.  While she was making movies, the star watched and learned from what  the men were doing in the director's chairs.   She effectively went from being behind the wheel with Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra... being behind the camera as director of some good low-budget, independent, money-making features in the 1950s.  She added screenwriter and producer to her list of credits.  Her credits as a TV director were quite extensive.  Ida was directing films by 1950.  She soon went over to TV, directing in that same decade while continuing to act.  She was a respected, popular TV director up to 1968.  Lovely Ms. Lupino strutted her way into the Hollywood boys club of TV directors and opened the door for other women to enter.  This actress/director was a generous groundbreaker and a trailblazer.

In the 1970s, another woman came along.  Like Ida, she was an actress who became a TV director.  Joan Darling acted in episodes of hit TV shows such as Marcus Welby, M.D., The Six Million Dollar Man and Police Woman.  On the Saturday night of October 25th in 1975, Joan Darling made millions of us TV viewers howl with laughter while watching a show on CBS.  That was the night the now-classic "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode aired on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  The TV station employee known on local television as Chuckles the Clown was accidentally killed in a parade.  He was dressed as another one of his kiddie show characters, Peter Peanut.  Tragically, a hungry elephant in the parade mistook him for a real peanut.  Fellow station employees attended the funeral.  They made wisecracks about the accident but got severely reprimanded by Mary Richards, the only one who seemed to take the clown tragedy seriously.

That is...until the actual funeral service.
This month, I saw premiere episodes of two ABC network sitcoms -- Selfie and Manhattan Love Story.  They attempted to be hip and edgy, putting heavy emphasis on sex, but they were nowhere near as funny as "Chuckles Bites the Dust."  I watched that classic episode again a few months ago.  It still holds up.  That Mary Tyler Moore character-driven sitcom with middle-aged characters seems hipper and edgier than some of today's new youth-driven sitcoms.  Its comedy came from how we deal with real-life drama -- death, divorce, workplace loyalty, sexual equality and equal opportunities, and unemployment to name a few.  The writing and the acting -- and the directing -- were excellent.

A perfect example of that is "Chuckles Bites the Dust" -- directed by Joan Darling.
Ida Lupino got three primetime Emmy nominations in her career.  Two were for sitcom acting.  (She also starred in a 1950s TV sitcom with Howard Duff, her real life husband.)  Her third came for dramatic acting.  She never received an Emmy nomination for her groundbreaking TV director work nor was she ever bestowed an Honorary Emmy.

Joan Darling went on to direct episodes of two spin-offs from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  She directed episodes of Rhoda and Phyllis.  She directed an episode of M*A*S*H and directed Neil Patrick Harris in episodes of Doogie Howser, M.D.

Joan Darling's prime Emmy nominations came for directing M*A*S*H and that classic sitcom episode starring Mary Tyler Moore and cast.  "Chuckles Bites the Dust" is now hailed as one of the funniest sitcom episodes in TV history and Darling directed it when very few women were directing primetime episodic television.

Ida Lupino should have received a Lifetime Emmy Award.  I think Joan Darling deserves an Honorary Emmy too.

Friday, October 24, 2014


If I'm asked to list my picks for the Top Ten Best Films of 2014, you'll see Edward Norton in two of them. There's the fast, funny, furious and poignant Wes Anderson comedy, The Grand Bupadest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes as the flamboyant concierge on the run.  Anderson takes us on a colorful madcap journey.
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Norton plays the meticulous Inspector Henckels.

And there's Birdman in which the versatile, exceptional actor plays an obnoxious and vain but talented Broadway actor opposite Michael Keaton.  Keaton plays the former action hero movie star determined to reinvent himself in a challenging, dramatic Broadway play that's been having some rocky rehearsals.

I still think that, in voice and mannerisms, Norton is doing a slight take-off on actor William Hurt, his co-star when he played The Incredible Hulk in 2008.  Keaton and Norton are Oscar nomination-worthy  for their work in this surreal comedy/drama.  Birdman is a cool jazz dance on self-respect and validation, self-delusion and truth.

The equally versatile and exceptional Naomi Watts co-stars as one of the complicated Broadway play's stressed out, insecure and nervous cast members.
Birdman reteams Naomi Watts with Edward Norton.  His actor character wants sex.
They once played a British couple whose marriage has been infected.  Their remake of The Painted Veil was one of the best films I saw the year it was released.  If my ticket had been double the price, I would've felt it was a bargain and worth every penny.  Ed Norton and Naomi Watts were outstanding as this troubled husband and wife.

From 2011, here is my short podcast review of some Edward Norton and Naomi Watts excellence that you may have missed:

Not getting an Oscar nomination does not mean that a film or an actor lacks quality.  Joel McCrea, Ida Lupino, Anton Walbrook, Giulietta Masina, Donald Sutherland, Mia Farrow, Richard Gere and Dennis Quaid are actors who gave marvelous screen performances and don't have Oscar nominations in their credits.  But I am surprised that The Painted Veil didn't get one single Oscar nomination at all.  This picture works on several levels -- the direction, adapted screenplay, costumes, cinematography, art direction, editing and original music score were stunning.  They were the stuff of big screen classic films.
And there was the intelligent, memorable acting.
Diana Rigg would've had my vote as an Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress.  Rent the film.  It's fine, mature entertainment.  I think you'll like it.  I kid you not -- I've rented the DVD several times.

Oscar Buzz for TILL

 I'm on Twitter and, in the last three weeks, there's been Oscar buzz from a few established movie critics. The buzz was that Cate B...