Thursday, September 17, 2009


Laura Linney

Tamara Jenkins' THE SAVAGES (great title) is a movie about something that lots of people are going through but nobody wants to deal with. We never see this stage of life in entertainment - it's too depressing...sounds like a bad pitch. Two cynical adult children have to find the right old age home for their aging father - eeeccck! Pass. Nothing clears a room or a multiplex like death or old age. She's done it fearlessly, with the right mix of humor and horror and with not even a shred of sentimentality.
"The Savages" is about young middle-aged adults dealing with an elderly parent who is losing his mind and can no longer take care of himself.
The characters' situation reflects the fragmented nature of families today. A brother (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a sister (Laura Linney) live far away from each other on the East Coast, and their father (Philip Bosco) lives on the other side of the country, in Arizona. But when there's a crisis, the kids have to drop what they're doing (somewhat grudgingly w/ a balloon to boot!) and fly out there, where they learn the distinctions between assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. Suddenly, they have to figure out where the old man should live.
Movies about adult siblings are rare, and even when we see them; they're usually about same-sex siblings working out, in adulthood, the competitive stresses of their childhood. "The Savages" deals with a brother-and-sister relationship, and it gets the details right - the ease of that interaction, the unspoken bond and the complete willingness of both parties to be rude to the other because they know the sibling can't be fooled anyway. Hoffman and Linney suggest a complete history in their conversation and even in their body language. They don't look alike, but they seem like brother and sister.
There's only one false element, a tiny one, besides her terrible wig. We're told that Wendy Savage (Linney) is three years younger than Jon Savage (Hoffman). Everything about Linney screams "older sister” to me, and in "The Savages" she treats him like a younger brother, pushing him, cajoling him, abusing him, remembering painful details of his childhood and fretting about everything. And he responds like a younger brother - by ignoring her or mumbling vague replies, and by not being fazed. There’s only one moment, in the car that I felt he was the older brother. When he busts her about the fellowship and his looks in the review mirror. It’s only then I felt birth order as the little sister. But the rest of the movie – she’s in charge – it’s a small note. But being that my brother and I are three years apart like these characters – I noticed it throughout.
Both siblings are involved in theater, but from different angles. Wendy is an unproduced playwright who keeps applying for Guggenheim Fellowships, and Jon has a doctorate in theater studies, teaches in a university and is writing a book on Bertolt Brecht. These are not the arbitrary career designations sometimes found in movies, in which every nice guy is an architect. The protagonists in "The Savages" had unwelcome drama in their childhood, thanks to an angry and difficult father, and each has chosen a different way of dealing with it. Wendy has chosen to dive into the drama by writing about it, and Jon has chosen to analyze the phenomenon of drama itself and to study an artist whose whole career was founded on the deconstruction of dramatic techniques.
Hoffman and Linney are superb, but as the film mainly follows Wendy, Linney, who has the opportunity to give the standout performance, and she does. She's full throttle and energetic, knows exactly what she's doing at every moment, and she's funny - very funny. This is one film that becomes richer after multiple viewings. But also one film that I don’t necessarily what to watch the DVD extras or hear the actors talk about their craft – Even though I’m obsessed with craft and always want to know how they got there. With this film for some reason I prefer it remain a mystery. She is so beyond real and layered and troubled. In the beginning, when she’s lying about her Gyno exam to get some extra attention from her married beau, playing up the possible tragedy to lying about receiving the fellowship to her brother. To applying for FEMA - genius! She is sick, but you can't hold it against her because she wants that approval and support she never got from her father. I have to admit I barely noticed this performance first time out at the art house theater cause the hair bugged me so much. Yes, the hair. I couldn’t get past the bad wig, now I never think about it. I just see brilliant Laura Linney in full stride. Her earlier films: CONGO, PRIMAL FEAR, ABSOLUTE POWER and even in THE TRUMAN SHOW…I thought she was acting up a storm. 'Over acting up a storm'. I could see technique all over the place. God, I'm a snob. Big roles, and some big chances to make her mark but...I didn’t get it. I liked her in 'Tales of the City' but these big films she just seemed way out of step and generic choices. Maybe she’s a TV actor. No, no, no, she’s a real actress. YOU CAN COUNT ON ME proved she has the goods and then some. Laura Linney deserves to be an A-Lister. Now that she has more control I think she’s finding roles and work she’s passionate about and connected too. Makes a big difference. KINSEY to THE SQUID AND THE WHALE to THE SAVAGES. Good choices, great performances.
THE SAVAGES is a tribute to writer-director Jenkins' restraint that she never tries to milk the father's situation for an emotional tug. It's great writing and directing and the best casting in thirty or so years. Hollywood would try to match hair or noses or body type - something obvious and stupid. Not here. These two look nothing alike and it's perfect.
Perhaps best of all are the quiet, private moments, as when Wendy, lying awake at night, overhears her normally rational brother crying while on the phone to his Polish paramour. Or the care with which Jon carefully redistributes the mess in his home to accommodate Wendy when she comes to stay, in a way that suggests he really does know where everything is. I love when Phillip stops at the bottom of the stairs and tells his sister they are doing good –“more than the old man ever did for us”, “I know”. And she’s lying comfy in his warn couch. I love the intimacy established between the two actors even though being very far apart. They are connected. Great stuff.
Both actors are completely credible as the sorts of writers they are. Each performance is the flip side of the other: Hoffman's professor moves from seeming to be at the end of his rope to having more control and competence than expected, while Linney's still-aspiring writer must come to grips with her across-the-boards unrealized potential. It's a wonderful match-up of performances.
This film has a significant meaning for my brother and me. Like this film, we came together during my mother’s illness and have stayed connected ever since. Unlike this film – our mother was everything to us. She was the exact opposite of this character. She was our heart – she kept the families together. She was a lot like this film; dark humor with a catch in your throat. Smart behaviorist humor. Teaser in the inth degree. We see a lot of ourselves in this film. Especially me – Hello, unproduced writer – acting teacher. Spooky. By the end you don’t even see the delicate small changes each character has made. Both have had a positive effect on one another and slowly they begin to be more valuable to the outside world. They healed each other. She becomes selfless, rescuing the precious dog and he goes to Poland to get his girl. Great film. Watch it again. Only wish mom were around to enjoy it with her boys.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lili Taylor as Valerie Solanas in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL



You can feel a signature role in a small indie films more readily than bigger budgeted projects. The heart and passion to tell a point of view with characters who aren’t the first on your Christmas card list. People like Valerie we avoid – everyone avoids. Lili Taylor, a maverick renegade artist as far as I’m concerned, has always looked in bizarre territory or sought after unfriendly characters, well, she wrapped her pint sized figure and teeth into this one. In the beginning, when she’s coming down the stairs, handcuffed after being arrested, we see how dead-on Lili is…Twitchy and blank. Dark and soft. You can tell she had done her research on what exactly Valerie's psychological disorder was…precisely – but maybe a dash of her own theories as well. She goes from her own world and then off again… drifts off into her own private universe of man hatred madness and then enters reality like a car crash - smack! Lili Taylor knows this girls tortured soul and gleefully inhabits this character. You don’t get the feeling Lili had lingering scars from this smart real life portrayal unlike Jessica Lange’s FRANCES, it’s a wonderful piece of acting. You get the feeling that Lili had a really good time with this one but still accomplished the same depth.

Based on the true story of Valerie Solanas who was a 60s radical preaching hatred toward men in her "Scum" manifesto. She wrote a screenplay for a film that she wanted Andy Warhol to produce, but he continued to ignore her. So she shot him. This is Valerie's story. Taylor gives her greatest performance yet. Wearing a newsboy's cap, funky, over sized clothes and a self-righteous smirk, Taylor is Valerie Solanas, the chain-smoking radical feminist who formed SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men), wrote an infamous manifesto proposing the elimination of men and on June 3, 1968, shot Andy Warhol with a .32- caliber automatic.

In following the life of Valerie Solanas from her wounded childhood to her moment of vindication, director Mary Harmon (American Psycho and Bette Page) and actress (Indy Queen for a long while) Lily Taylor go inside the mind of a woman who was deranged and possibly schizophrenic, and follow the logic of her situation as she sees it, until her act is revealed as the inevitable result of what went before. Harmon and Taylor never slip in complete Psychological drama or a paranoid woman or hero who is misunderstood. They do both. Not easy –but in this film dances on the brink of both sympathy and terror.

The centerpiece is Taylor all the way, she takes a larger than life complex woman and makes her simple, funny, furiously alive and spooky sexiness with ugly demons just under the surface. She makes her determined and passionate and bright and all her demons justified. Ms. Talyor who has often played strange outsiders looking in – in the past with HOUSEHOLD SAINTS, DOGFIGHT, GIRLS Town, and even in SAY ANYTHING – she was the girl who played guitar and obsessed over Joe – remember that? She wrote 52 songs about her High School love Joe - Love her. This time out she finds the dream mental sickness role of a lifetime – the uber combative Valarie Solanas and 'kills it'.

Tough a a teamster yet poignantly naive and shy, she takes no prisoners when it comes to espousing radical theories or cooking up ways to make a buck – even sports Golf shoes and walking over her tricks chest. Charging sometimes a sliding 6 dollar scale for her conversation skills. “Fifty cents a dirty word !?! Fifty Cents?...Men!” Slicing right into her manifesto – always ready to let the same or opposite sex have it with her many theories of disgust regarding ‘Men’.

Solanas, who was abused as a child and worked her way through college as a prostitute, comes across as a gifted woman who never quite loses a wry sense of humor. After a short career on her college paper (she writes columns arguing that females can reproduce without males and should do so), Valerie takes on Manhattan; she writes plays, does readings in luncheonettes, and is befriended by Candy Darling ( never better – Stephen Doriff, a transsexual who takes her for the first time to the Factory.

Lili Taylor plays Solanas as mad but not precisely irrational. She gives the character spunk, irony and a certain heroic courage (the sight of her typing on her rooftop, the wind rustling the pages of her manuscript, is touching) – understanding – completely. Variety calls Taylor ``the first lady of the indie cinema,'' and in one independent film after another (``Mystic Pizza,'' ``Dogfight,'' ``Household Saints,'' ``Arizona Dream,'' ``Bright Angel,'' ``Short Cuts'') she has proven herself the most intelligent and versatile of performers. If you had to look at all of the films of one actor who has emerged in the last 20 years, you would run less chance of being bored with Lili Taylor’s choices than anyone else.

It's a hell of a role, and Taylor, who won a well-deserved Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival for her performance, is brilliant.

Sunday, August 30, 2009




Like Shirley MacLaine’s role in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. Almost 25 years after I first experienced this film I have different feelings about the picture as a whole today and I wish I didn’t. I wish I wasn’t such a cold-hearted snob. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is my affection for Whoopi Goldberg’s amazing screen debut. Discovered by Mike Nichols, who directed and produced her one-woman-show on Broadway that brought attention to Hollywood and Steven Speilberg. This was a true blue talent with something brutally honest to say about the world and fresh perspective that Hollywood may not have been ready for at the time.

As a young gay man from a very conservation town I had tremendous connection to Celie, her world and her journey.

The film has some imperfections, some forced comedic attempts, some cartoonish compositions but the one thing that is never off is Whoopi’s heart and soul. All the actors seem to be committed to every moment. Floating in and out of scenes with all of their passion. I just wish the Steven had trusted these beginners a little more. Although the film was nomination for 11 Academy Awards, it won not one single Oscar. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach after the Awards ceremony that year.

Celie, played by Whoopi, is a woman cruelly treated by the world around her. She is shy, frightened, trying to dodge looks in the street or any kind of acknowledgement. The scene where she shops for half blind, brutalized Sofia, played by another newcomer Oparh Winfrey, made me burst every time I saw it. Her eventual flowering with Margeret Avery and her first big smile provides one of the most joyous experiences I had ever had watching a film.

My first time to New York. I entered Grand Central Station from JFK and my best buddy George was there waiting for me with a flowing purple fabric and shouted ,“Celieeee” This was how important this film was for me, the requirement I made for others. They knew if they wanted to reach me – they would have to do it with this kind of majesty. It was very funny. Love my Georgies.

This again was Whoopi Goldberg’s first film role, beyond incredible the entire journey she takes. She really gives us the entire life of Celie. It’s still by far her best work, because she was allowed to draw from her raw inner truth and then street perspective and not required to play a stereotypical black film caricature or comic relief. Her truth and soul is the center of the film – even though it’s flawed. THE COLOR PURPLE was criticized for Spielbergs postcard landscapes and forced comedic moments. Like Harpo falling through roof or the big moment towards the end at the big climax ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner where Shug tells Mister “Celie is coming with to Memphis with us”. Whoopi lets him have it and all her characters oppressed resentment comes out when she slams on the table, “Did I ever ask you of anything !!!…Not even your sorry ass hand in marriage” but unfortunately ends with a comic beat from Shug's boyfriend, “Nice to meet you all” – it worked but it was cheap and it simply wasn’t needed.

Whoopi also gives us another fine example of playing old age and doing it right. Even though the make-up did support her being older, it was her body language, collapsed and beaten with a sliver of hope left. Like running in a dream, running toward her beloved sister at the end – was spot on perfection.

THE COLOR PURPLE was obviously made with tenderness and passion and it’s movie escapism: even though you are escaping to a cruel – harder world than your own.

When a movie character is really working, we become that character. That's what the movies offer: Escapism into lives other than our own. I am not female, I am not black, I am not Celie, but for a time during THE COLOR PURPLE my mind deceives me that I am all of those things, and as I empathize with her struggle and victory I learn something about what it must have been like to be her.
 Celie is a great powerful movie character, played with astonishing grace and tenderness from Ms. Goldberg, and to feel her story is to be blessed with her humanity. Haven't we all felt ugly? Been afraid to smile? Been beaten down ? Haven't we all lost precious things in our lives? Dared to dream of a better life? Celie endures and prevails, and so hope lives. If it touches you deeply enough, it's not just only a movie. It's a lasting experience. Way to go Whoopi. Got the OSCAR for GHOST, but the academy does that all the time. It was an OSCAR IOU - for sure. Great work.

Geena Davis as Thelma Dickenson in THELMA & LOUISE


GEENA DAVIS as Thelma Dickenson in THELMA & LOUISE

I got the sense in ACCIDENTAL TOURIST that she was almost there…Still some of her lines felt dry around the edges and monotone. Her heart wasn’t completely in it yet, she wasn’t quiet 'fully' arrived. In THELMA & LOUISE she seemed to have blossomed fully into a seasoned actor. In the beginning, her the playing make-up and slight airs work with the character, but as the film progressed and the character started to peel away the unnecessary. I felt that Geena Davis was shredding her preconceived notions about acting as well. She became the actress I had been waiting for and wanted her to be in “Bettlejuice” , “The Fly” and “Accidental Tourist. It was beyond perfect casting and she just erupted in the role of Thelma. She was a revelation. Like being a witness to something truly happening it front of our eyes. At the beginning, a sensitive and fragile Thelma is next to a energetic and realistic Louise but in the second part of the movie, more precisely, after Thelma burglarized a shop (probably the best loved sequence in the whole movie) in order to grab money, roles are reversed. Even though it’s seen through surveillance footage – we can see her rob that little store – It’s a genius moment – (great writing) played to the hilt by Geena Davis. Her body language and movements are comedic classic signature lighting in a bottle.

Director Ridley Scott selected his performers wisely. Not only do Davis and Sarandon deliver two of the screen’s best female performances of all time, he has also surrounded them with a capable lot of seasoned professionals who bring colour to even the most stereotypical of characters. Scott moulded the cast into one cohesive ensemble while adroitly bringing the story together to a conclusion that is expected but still leaves you hoping for a different outcome.

is one of the best examples of the use of character-driven plot to visit the cineplex in many years. We don’t expect bombast and sensationalism to prop the film up. Instead, we desire to learn more about the fascinating and independent Thelma and Louise. We easily identify and empathize with these persecuted women whose only desires are to get away from that which haunted them and have a little bit of fun.

Thelma takes the big journey in the film from pampered innocence / unknowing scared housewife to tough gun totting talented and fearless grocery story robber and beloved best friend and it’s her idea to “Keep going”. Not even "Romeo and Juliet" got to go together – at the same time. Call me a romantic but I get goose bumps every time I even think about that moment, that brilliant ending, but like Roger Ebert wanted the camera to hold on that ‘freeze frame another 10 seconds’ – then fade to white. It could have made a brilliant classic film – sheer film nirvana.

My favorite Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon moment was in the empty New Mexico dessert at dawn. The sky is all dark purple and Sarandon is just standing alone listening to the early morning and soaking in the quiet. It’s peaceful. She just wanted to stop time for a second. Geena comes up carefully, not wanting into startle Louise. She knows she’s behind her – she can feel it. It a tender / loving moment. They are in this mystical/magical existential dream together – like they are walking on a cloud. It feels surreal. How did we get here? They don’t need any dialogue. There’s just a knowing togetherness that is deeper than lovers or in most best friends. These women are connected, deeply . We see it – we can feel it. Beyond acting. Another scene that I heard was almost cut.

Geena Davis went the furthest distance an actor can go in a film. And her few films after Thelma and Louise – she seems to have made the break-through here. She’s been terrific ever since.


DEAD MAN WALKING was terrific acting, another great example of a brilliant duo (w/ Sean Penn – in his best work along side MILK) and there are moments in ATLANTIC CITY; that overused popularized signature moment (The lemons in the window) but the role that utilized all of what we love about Susan Surandon as a persona and an actress was her courageous, tough, and yet vulnerable Louise Sawyer in THELMA & LOUISE. A role which she not only inhabited but as far as I’m concerned but created some of the best film acting, non-dialogue moments ever. It transcended acting. It was a spiritual journey that only a precise thinking actor could find the truth in. She’s smart, fiery, sexy, attentive, scolding yet nurturing, determined with still have her wry sense of truth in her sarcastic humor. That knowing laugh. Louise Sawyer seems to be the role that captured the hearts of America, critics and gave her career the boost that keep her in quality films for several years that followed. She deserved the rain of blessings she received in the 90’s. A gifted, angry with good reason, beautiful and always surprising Susan Sarandon.
We know the story…of THELMA & LOUISE.
Sarandon plays Thelma's pal Louise, a waitress who is pushing forty and fed up with waiting for her musician boyfriend, Jimmy (subtly detailed by Michael Madsen), to stop roving and commit. Louise organizes a weekend fishing trip for herself and Thelma, who doesn't know how to fish. "Neither do I," says Louise, "but Darryl does it -- how hard can it be?"
Screenwriter Callie Khouri deftly draws a deep and dangerous drama about two incredibly lonely women whose dreary lives are made brighter only through their companionship and self-reliance. Thelma and Louise find strength in their growing friendship despite their battles with nostalgia, remorse, joy and conflict. Bringing out the depth of these exceptionally complex characters are the magnificent Sarandon and Davis. Each brings their own brand of charisma to the role, making their portrayals realistic and complete.
Sarandon fought hard for every line and every extra moment, Ridley Scott is very receptive to ideas from cast and crew members on his films, and used many suggestions from Ms. Sarandon during production, the visual of Louise packing her shoes in plastic bags while prepping for the lady's weekend getaway in the mountains; the scene where Louise exchanges her jewelry for the old man's hat ( brilliant); and the scene where Louise stops the car in the desert at night and takes a personal moment looking at the stars while Thelma sleeps in the car – My favorite scene in the film, a scene that took half the night to light.
Originally the fight scene in the motel room with Jimmy called for Louise and Jimmy to make love and conduct an impromptu mock wedding ceremony. Sarandon felt that having sex would be the last thing Louise would be interested in doing at that point in the story and told Scott that if she performed the sequence as written that they would have to include a scene where Louise would wig out as a result. They shot it Sarandon’s way and it’s a brilliant moment in the film in the motel tell “Give it to me here…” and later ”We both got what we settled for…” that was all Sarandon’s doing. Nice work. Actors always think they know better, but rarely do they, Sarandon obviously did.
And prior to signing on to do the film, Scott gave Sarandon his word that he would not change the ending of the movie. Major players had been up for Louise Sawyer – Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand, Cher…great names but we can’t imagine anyone but Susan Sarandon. It’s a subtle, terrific, powerhouse of a performance…And she give Thelma / Geena Davis all the room she needed – she’s a generous friend indeed. Another one of my personal favorites moments. Looking at the old destroyed face lady in the runned down dessert town on the run – out of money about to put on some lipstick. She tosses it out. As Thelma is robbing the grocery store. Both signature moments vital to the overall theme and truth of the picture. Thelma big and load – Louise’s small and tiny – but oh so effective. Wow!
Coming to the end as the police cars pulling up behind them I felt I knew what was coming next. As more of the theater was shouting "No" - "don't do it" I was quieting hoping they would go. And then Thelma said, "Let's not get caught...Keep going" Louise,"You sure?" Thelma, "Yeah".  I knew if they had the courage to do it - it would be the perfect ending. Not even Romeo and Juliet went at the same time. And they did. Punch it. And so it goes. Seeing this with my dear friend Shane and all the things in my life that had built up to that moment - it set me free on a very profound level. An experience I will never forget. Haven't had that emotional wallop in a film since. But I'm waiting...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

NICOLE KIDMAN as Suzanne Stone in TO DIE FOR


NICOLE KIDMAN as Suzanne Stone in TO DIE FOR

Something happens to actors early on in their careers. Especially today when it’s gotten so tough for actors to breakthrough and get one part to really sink their teeth into. They have to do something unique and signature early on if they want to make a lasting impression and get a chance to do it again. Amy Adams thought she did it, and everyone else did too, with CATCH ME IF YOU CAN – but it didn’t – the one that did it for her was JUNEBUG where she knocked it out of the park. Michael Shannon did it recently with REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. Young Actors have got to go ‘Gang-busters’ early on. ‘Gangbusters’ was the nickname given to Nicole Kidman’s Suzanne Stone in TO DIE FOR. Lucky for Nicole the qualities of her character called for desperation and hunger for fame and intense ambition – it was a perfect match. Nicole has never been so tight, her range never as wide and so appealing. Even though you may have despised her character you loved watching.

By the pool, "How about one of these Suzanne?", Matt Dillion smacking a young kids butt – how about a kid..? In her shades – hiding form the sun because she heard sunlight is bad for people on TV - “No Thanks”. So funny.

Determined to be taken seriously, she’ll kick out anyone in her way. She talks as if she’s already a famous TV broadcaster. She quotes People or US magazine articles that she’s remembered and believes them as fact. TO DIE FOR is the kind of movie, like NETWORK, that meticulously attacks it’s characters and Nicole Kidman’s genius Suzanne is someone who is not only stupid, vain, and ego-maniacal but also vulnerably human and sexy. She represents, on a bigger scale, feelings that our culture has in greater numbers now – finding a fast cheap way to become the next big sensation. She simply lacks the brain power and intelligence in concealing her dastardly deeds.

Nicole Kidman’s work here is fine and beyond anything that we’d expect from her earlier mediocre work. She talks only about being 'the next big thing' and enrolls everyone around her to do the same. Her cloths, Her make-up, her manner, her dance moves, the walk, the way in which she poses in front of the classroom ( as if millions of eye were on her at all times) all brought to precise pitch in this rendering. Her Suzanne is utterly absorbed in being famous and on TV – it’s such an eerie and complex realization by Kidman. Spooky good. She plays Suzanne as the kind of woman who pities us – because we don’t share the same ambition as her. She may be a sociopath, she may be a monster, but her impulses are so heartfelt we get caught up in a way that is sneaky and leaves the moral straightening out for later. Very smart direction from Gus Van Sant and a witty – stylish script by Buck Henry. A lesser actor would have played this very one note but 'hungry' Nicole puts lots of unseen layers into her love of Suzanne. Her Close-ups, right to the audience secrets are my favorite parts of the film. Nicole is so funny and charming and inspired. Kidman lets you see the efforts to charm that are transparent, yet succeed all the time. She is electric and utterly mesmerizing in this film. Kidman like Suzanne Stone indeed belongs center stage – the leading lady in our lives. It’s an ironic thing acting sometimes. Brilliant.

“I just wanna say that it’s nice to live in a country - where live, liberty and all that other stuff…still mean something”. And the ending with Illeana Douglas figure skating over the spot where Suzanne lays to rest forever is one of my favorite tags on a film ever. Just hysterical. Great film. Extra-fantastic Nicole Kidman.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jessica Tandy as Daisy Werthan in DRIVING MISS DAISY



Many older female stars wanted to play Daisy. But theater legend Jessica Tandy (she was Blanche to Brando's Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire) got the part, and she leaves her lasting landmark performance on film. This is Tandy's finest two hours onscreen in a film career that goes back to 1932. Her graceful, unfussy style is a sharp reproach to the histrionics in Steel Magnolias, the other late 80's flower movie based on a southern play. The elegant simplicity of this Daisy leaves no doubt about which is the flower of choice. Fervent forlorn queens will out to snuff me for preferring ‘Daisy’ to ‘Magnolia’. But it’s a better film.

DRIVING MISS DAISY is a film of great love and patience, telling a story that takes 25 years to unfold, exploring its characters as few films take the time to do. By the end of the film, we have traveled a long way with the two most important people in it - Miss Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy), a proud old Southern lady, and Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman – equally brilliant), her chauffeur - and we have developed a real stake in their feelings.

The movie spans a quarter century in the lives of its two characters, from 1948, when Miss Daisy's son decides it is time she stop driving herself and employ a chauffeur, to 1973, when two old people acknowledge the bond that has grown up between them. It is an immensely subtle film, in which hardly any of the most important information is carried in the dialogue and in which body language, tone of voice or the look in an eye can be the most important thing in a scene. Tandy shows astonishing range as she ages from a sprightly and alert widow in her 60s to an infirm old woman drifting in and out of senility in her 90s.

Hers is one of the most complete portraits of the stages of old age I have ever seen in a film.

It’s another match made in Heaven. Her and Morgan Freeman. In her long career in film and always celebrated on the stage. Miss Tandy never had a role that had richness of humor and richness of toughness that Miss Daisy. Jessica Tandy bring to it a mastery of what might be called selective understatement. No apologies either. She is a spectacular accumulation of tiny obsessions and misconceptions. Miss Tandy creates a particular woman who is sometime hilariously wrong headed but always self-aware.

Her Miss Daisy possesses the kind of stubbornness that one hesitates to crack, since, underneath, there is something extremely fragile and scared. Yet there is also a fierce intelligence that comes through here – No more moving is in the film’s final moments – for both these stellar actors. It’s a moment and wipes away any missteps in the films big jumps earlier and bizarre casting of Dan Aykroyd. That final moment is a revelation- a deep exhilarating sigh of tenderness and love between two people – it’s brilliant acting.

Mr. Meisner used to talk about how her husband, terrific Actor Hume Cronyn (her co-star in COCOON ) used to go around New York pitching the multiple gifts of his wife Jessica to every producer, director, and writer in town. Breaking through finally to Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams for ‘Steercar - “he was always her biggest fan”. I was knew Sandy when Jessica Tandy finally won her OSCAR and the next day in class Sandy said – “Well, he finally did it. Good ole Hume. She’d been an extra without him you know?”

Well done Hume.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Geraldine Page as Mrs. Watts in A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL



An extraordinary year for women. The Fives best actress nominees were:

Anne Brancroft, sensational in AGNES OF GOD. A role that Geraldine Page originated on Broadway.

Whoppi Goldberg – an amazing film debut in THE COLOR PURPLE, right up there with Barbra Streisand in FUNNY GIRL, as the best first feature.

Jessica Lange – Love Jessy to pieces but still wanted Beverly D’Angelo to get the role in the extended movie version of her life in SWEET DREAMS.

Meryl Streep in OUT OF AFRICA, another Signature Role.

And then the Winner – Deservedly so to Geraldine Page in A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL.

A luminous performance by Geraldine Page ( I say luminous because that is a word usually reserved for a more youthful sexy performer but this actress makes this role luminous ) and one of the most touching pictures of the 80’s. The year is 1947; the place, Houston, Texas. Mrs. Watts (Page) is an elderly woman given to humming hymns and living the remaining years of her life with her wimp son, Ludie (the underrated John Heard), and his shrewish wife, Jessie Mae (a fantastic – little seen since, Carlin Glynn, best known as Molly Ringwald’s mother in SIXTEEN CANDLES), in a cramped apartment. Mrs. Watts's heart is weak, she has spells, and she can't get along with Jessie Mae at all. She has but one fervent desire left in her life: she wants to return to Bountiful, the small Texas town where she was born and grew up. The memories of the tranquility of Bountiful haunt her constantly as a reminder of a better time and life. When the stress gets too much for her, Mrs. Watts hides her pension check from Ludie and Jessie Mae and plans her escape. The movie is wonderfully made, and the first-time direction by stage director Peter Masterson is extraordinary. No guns, no violence, no nudity--just a caring story that will wet the driest eye and warm the coldest heart. Every single role is perfectly cast and perfectly played, and Horton Foote's script is a marvel of economy

Geraldine Page inhabits the central role with authority, drive, and of joy and then in a flash pain regarding her past to oppressed present. Her Mrs. Watts is simultaneously hilarious and crafty, sentimental and unexpectedly tough. It's a wonderful role, and the performance ranks with the best things Miss Page has done on the screen, including her definitive Alexandra Del Lago in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, and her EVE as I mentioned previously for INTERIORS.

The movie surprises us: It's not really about conflict between the generations, but about the impossibility of really understanding that you are now a member of an older generation…that decades have gone by. I have a special connection to this film because I have a longing to return to the place I grew up.

Geraldine Page, who somehow always manages to have a hint of girlishness in all of her performances, who always seems to be up to something roguish and not ever quite ready to cave in to age. In the final scenes to tell her son something he might never be able to understand: Someday he will be old, too, and he won't be able to believe it either.

Those moments at the end of the picture when Geraldine has accomplished her small goal of returning to her childhood home are quite simply devastating - we see her body change from an old lady to a young girl then back to old woman again as she swings her legs off the end of her house's porch, and we we watch her spirit leave her body on the drive out. Smart of the director to keep the camera on her face. This is a true actress – let it play out and she bring us into her happiness then to her sorrow back to blissful remembrance then finally back to the unbearable reality of her present existence. It’s the ability to play opposites within a split second. From laughter to tears and laughter in tears, and then in some rare moments… do both at the same time. Not many can do it. She did in her brief role in THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE and did it also here in A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL – hugging her son in both pictures. In “Pope” hugs her son and then pushes him away at the same time. In “Trip” she hugs her son in another way – desperate and yearning ( as if to say ‘I love you but I hate the choices you’ve made’) – without words – just through touch. He knows what she wants. Incredible. In those final moments she is powerless once again, but still it leaves us uplifted in that quiet way, the poetry of her humanity. We walk away thinking: She did it! She made it home. It’s a powerful and magical performance. That image of her in the car. I got the feeling the Geraldine may have been saying goodbye to life – to film - to acting - to everything that came before this moment. It's a small little gem of a movie, great score, great casting – great writing and another signature role from one of cinemas true blue legends. No one sings it better than Geraldine, “Come home…Come home…yey who are weary come home, come home…” Beautiful. And finally the OSCAR, losing her shoes as they announced her name, bringing her purse on stage with her but her OSCAR at last.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009




It’s hard to find what Signature Role to place on here first. She be back for sure! Kate’s had a few already in her short career. TITANIC wouldn’t have had the sweetness and endurance of fast love fallen youth believability without her. SENSE AND SENSIBILITY wouldn’t have made …much 'sense' without her passion and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF A SPOTLESS MIND wouldn’t have had reason without her fierce empathy. And remember her first film HEAVENLY CREATURES, I mean, wow, what a career! And now Hannah Schmitz in THE READER. I loved her work in it but I didn’t buy a few of the scenes and I thought older Hannah just didn’t go over. It’s a great performance still and deserving of last years Lead Actress OSCAR but I don’t think will be a Signature Role, in terms of personal best acting, in a hundred years time. Kate Winslet really sets and standard. Like Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange did in the 80’s (Well, Streep still, in the 90's, and forever) – you know when going to a Winslet film – you are getting quality. Ok, we can overlook that one Mayers Christmas film – I can’t even think of the title but she was still excellent in it. Even Meryl in that one with Rosanne Barr…SHE DEVIL, horrid (except the laundry scene, "Will someone please get the doooor") Still talking about Meryl on Kate's blog - love it.

In LITTLE CHILDREN Kate is never-better. Kate Winslet goes so deep into her character you can almost feel her nerve endings. Imagine her former passionate self. Her Sarah is a former college feminist shocked to find herself a clueless wife and mom married to a jerk (Gregg Edelman) whom she catches jerking off to the Slutty Kay Web site snorting panties – genius! I know so many young married women that want so much more than they have. That perhaps they cashed in too early and settled for something that would probably be a better fit for their mothers.

Maybe it's hard to get past the notion that, true to its title, "Little Children" is about a bunch of big babies.

Todd Field’s LITTLE CHILDREN from a screenplay by Mr. Field and Tom Perrotta, based on the novel by Mr. Perrotta, is centered on a contemporary suburban Madame Bovary, Sarah Pierce, played with full-bodied grace and gusto by Kate.

The laughs in this film catch in your throat in Little Children. Sarah is not a perfect mother – she is a deeply flawed woman but Winslet does something a extra. She keeps moving, trying, (and thinking in the scene – what’s my next move? , every scene builds on itself – very difficult to do on a film set – Kate must have really mapped this one out carefully) and push her secret desires for her new love and become the woman she used to be. The film is more than a moral fable about the traps we set for ourselves by not growing up. Ms. Winslet performs a high-wire act that balances hard truth and hardcore tenderness. Most recent performances fade from the memory, this one sticks. The book club scene where she talks about ‘Bovary’ as herself could have been the signature moment of her performance but Todd Field threw the camera profile instead of getting up right in there on her face. I think I went into convulsions when I saw this in the theatre because that was her big moment and we only got half of it.

She brings to the character a quality like the film itself - a unique subtle non judgemental quality all its own, equivalent to a sense of floating through life. She’s somnalbulistic and in much need to wake up and pay attention. “What about your child!” I wanted to scream. But we recognize her faults cause we all have them or have been there. I was there a couple times. After things take some rather nightmarish turns, deep emotional charges go off, and the film concludes on a note that will likely make you wonder whether you've just seen a snide critique of middle-class values or an unforgiving argument in their favor. When she grabs her little girl at the end – you know that she’s going to look out for her from now on. Or we hope at least. But most likely it will happen again when she finds someone new attractive.

This performance will keep coming back again and again – just you wait and see…Absolutely brilliant acting. I think having the great source material as well as the script - this actress goes over every word and distills her character's down to the bone. Like with REVOLUTIONARY ROAD - playing conflicted, imperfect character's are not easy, but Kate is the one to 'go to' if your female character isn't cookie cutter perfect with simple objectives. Complex women = Kate Winslet.

She once stated that “After each movie script I read, I always think, how different can I possibly be?... Is this going to challenge me, is this going to inspire me, and is this going to make me love my job more than I already do?" Well…there you have it. She’s a true modern day movie goddess, thank heaven!




One of the most appealing things about her as an actress is the way she responds to and is invigorated by a strong co-star. When she has a vehicle to herself, she seems to lose her discipline, if not her way. Performances in her earlier work would drift off into mannerisms and inflections. She needs someone to support, challenge and interact with. Mr. Fonda is the best thing that's happened to her since Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart.

Katharine Hepburn, whose luminous presence and quiet dignity carries ON GOLDEN POND. In Hepburn’s performance, her character’s love for her husband and her exasperation with him are two sides of a coin. Hepburn uses the part to communicate many of the conflicting feelings of old age: the joy of living, the fear of being alone, disappointment in one’s children, and acceptance of the past, present, and future.

In signature moment in the film has one of my favorite lines that Katherine Hepburn used all the time herslef Chelsea (Jane Fonda) returns without Bill who has gone to California. She announces that they got married in Europe. During a heart-to-heart talk with Ethel ( Kate) about her estrangement from Norman, she is advised to forget the past and get on living in the present. “Get on with it Chelsea!” Kate hadn’t work for years before ON GOLDEN POND. She hated watching the way she shook, it bothered her. She didn’t mind doing Theatre again but having that permanent record of her trembling really bothered her. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone but her – if anything it shows us the fragility and temporality of life and all that she has accomplished in film.

Jane Fonda said she was able to cry in this movie because at the time of shooting, Ms. Hepburn was hiding in the bushes shaking her fists at Jane to get her to emote Also, an interesting memory thing I remember reading is that, Katherine Hepburn was supposed to have a stunt double perform her "dive-in" scene for her, but instead she insisted on doing it herself. She dove into the frigid water without a wetsuit.

"Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor. Don't you forget it. You're going to get back on that horse, and I'm going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we're gonna go, go, go!" Crazy sentimental dialogue, but Hepburn personalizes and gives it an honesty and thrust that only the Great Kate could do. Barbara Stanwyck and Frances Sternhagen were on call in case Katherine wasn’t able to start shooting when they wanted her. Henry called a week before to make sure she was coming… glad he did.

Another story I always loved from Sandy Meisner was that in the early thirties when the Group Theatre first starting gathering and performing in the winters in New York . I think GOLDEN BOY was on Broadway at the time. Ms. Hepburn went to class with a all the greats and the great teachers were all there: Sandy, Lee Strasberg, Stella Alder, Bobby Lewis, Harold Clurman…all of them. After Lee lead the class doing all those ‘feel the cold, feel the wind…walk in sand’ exercises. Lee turned to Kate Hepburn who had already won an Oscar for MORNING GLORY and asked her what she thought. Sandy said she had got up and thanked everyone for their time but said “this stuff looks like a bunch of Whooie – I’m going to go back to Hollywood and be a Movie-Star” and so she did.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kathy Bates as Dolores Claiborne in DOLORES CLAIBORNE



Maybe not a better movie than Misery. I like them both equally, but this is a more nuanced and layered performance - without question.

As a battered wife who finally, fatally fights back, Bates brings dignity to a tale that too often traffics in cliches. Her Dolores is never just a quivering martyr, and when the time comes for payback she doesn't serve it without a hint of regret. But the heart of the film is Dolores' interaction with her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their sparring alone should have caught Oscar's attention. This was definitely that suffered from a bad release date - early in the year.

Dolores Claiborne ( also titled ‘God the Queens love this Movie’ ) is a riveting screen adaptation of a 1992 Stephen King novel. Kathy Bates puts in a towering performance as Dolores Claiborne, a feisty, long-suffering, Maine mother who has spent most of her life working as a housekeeper for Vera (Judy Parfitt – Oscar worthy as well – in a signature supporting piece), a rich, domineering, and finicky woman. She is now suspected of killing her employer for an inheritance.

Kathy Bates does a terrific job in the title role, an unglamorous drudge with long-simmering angers and occasionally a sarcastic wit. She effectively plays a woman whose personality has been mostly rubbed away by disappointments and by the total lack of anyone to care for or about her. She suffers and puts away all her hopes and dreams for a daughter that doesn’t speak to her anymore. It’s by far one of the best aged performances in film – right up there with Sissy Spacek’s slow progression in COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER or Jessica Lange’s early scenes in FRANCES and Marion Cottilard's brilliant entire age progression in LA VIE EN ROSE. Bates plays both late twenties and late forties with careful depiction and grace without over-doing it. Her body language and walk are beaten and sad. Her side looks to her daughter, (Jennifer Jason Leigh at her twitchy best) in the car are both endearing and filled with humor. Suggesting the characters ability to still have a sense of insight to oneself.

On the first layer is the crust of this performance – the piss and vinegar – the rage of the character and then as you peel the layers back, you see that the heart of this woman is as strong as her bite. She lets her guard down when she first see’s Selena and the then the walls come back up when gazes at the man who’s trying to put her away – the man who’s been trying to put her away for twenty years – Christopher Plummer.

I thought Misery was her mainstream Signature role, but this is the one that had more meat in it. Same way I felt about Emma in HOWARD'S END and MERYL in THE FRENCH LIEUTENANTS WOMAN. To much direct intensity with no humor or inner reflection / insight. Maybe it's cause these film roles were their first big leads they wanted to get every line right but missed and completely be 'on the nose' and do the script exactly as written. Nothing wrong with that - god knows - but breathing and letting in your personality into the role and perspective and humor give the character more substance.

Another brilliant moment of acting to point out is the first of the films – which is played at larger length towards the end. Bates, distraught beyond reason, her gray hair completely disheveled, rushes downstairs to the body. She is breathless and lost. Not knowing exactly what she is going to do, she ransacks utensil drawers in the kitchen and returns clutching a rolling pin. She returns to the bottom of the broken stars, hoists the rolling-pin over her head. The old lady waits for the blow . . . She can’t, she can’t hurt this cruel old bag of bones, it’s her best friend. She loves her. It’s all right there on Kathy Bates face.

Powerful performance. The emotional endurance and commitment of this piece of acting is like no other. The guilt and buried pain of responsibility. Not a false note, from her laugh to the nightmare on the ferry with young Selena scrabbling her mind for the worst of the worst, (“my shit of a white trash of a husband is ‘f-ing’ my daughter”). Pure terror – the unimaginable is all possible – as long as you cast Kathy Bates.

My dear friend David Swor and I, in the early 90's, used the term 'killed' or 'kill' or 'killing' a lot. The word could be inter-changeable, good or bad depending on our mood, situation or person we were talking about. It's all about the inflection. Our friend Melissa, for example, was 'a killing' most of time, the hot guy we wanted to get closer to on the dance for was 'kill' and after seeing DOLORES CLAIBORNE we walked out of the movie and both said to one another at the same time "Girl, she killed it!" She should have won Oscar number two for her, three if you include the one she should have won for PRIMARY COLORS too. Like TOOTISE, I think I have every line of this one down. Girl, I'm Sick.

Sunday, August 23, 2009




Another one people are going to say I took from PREMIERE - 'Not true, Not true' I cried! Ah, whatever... I went back and forth for days on this one as well because I loved HOWARD'S END and her performance in it. But settled on the one that I thought felt the most enlightened quality and had the most humor to it. I tell students all the time "Find the humor in your character, even if you're playing Hamlet...find their sense of humor." Comedy makes Tragedy compelling. And I think Emma Thompson was stuck by this reality at her viewing HOWARD'S END, It's fabulous but straight forward and dry and not much humor in her first Merchent / Ivory pic. Traces of wit but only dabs. She has such 'fullness' to her Miss Keaton - another word I hate - 'fullness'. But it's true she just seems so relaxed and not acting at all this movie. There might have been lots of reasons for her ease; I suspect that her edge of confidence level was raised a bit since starting this work after winning so many (much deserved) awards from HOWARD'S END. Without question, she can play that English corset drama, but there’s a free ease quality to this performance that just isn’t there in HOWARD'S END. Trust me, I watched both of them, back to back, sometimes, for days on in. I'm a sick puppy. There's a less seriousness and even though in the middle of utter dome – like the scene with Anthony Hopkins where scene confesses she’s a “coward”. She’s able to add a hint of self-effacing humor. Both performances are very smart and both layered, and textured - aiding in driving the story to a stronger resolve with much more suspense along the way. Will they get together?

Both richly deserving of awards and attention. I felt stronger and sympathized with Miss Kenton deeper than her other roles. I wanted her to achieve her objective more. Probably cause the script supported her longing but I felt Emma Thompson was especially grounded this film and gave it heart and put in it more details. Anthony Hopkins had to ignore and pledged his allegiance to his master and all Miss Kenton… wanted…was simple a kiss. Love. It's so simple. But getting that kiss and love proved very difficult. Howard’s End is one of my favorite films but her performance in it is very straight forward. Straight forward at it's most brilliant, driven and especially committed where she tells her new beloved "why can't you see what's she has done - you have done!", but it doesn’t have the 'fullness', (there I go again), of wit and irony and various self effacing humorous moments that make it a 'Signature' piece of acting. Deserved the Academy Award for HOWARD'S END but deserved one for this one as well, a heavier OSCAR.

The most rewarding scene in the film for me is the scene where Miss Kenton is clearly attracted to the butler, Anthony Hopkins, but he is terrified of intimacy, and sidesteps it through a fanatic devotion to his work. The most painful, and brilliant, shows Miss Kenton surprising Stevens in his room, reading a book. "What book?", she asks. He hides the cover. She pursues him, cornering him, snatching the book away to find it is a best-selling romance.

She had not imagined he read romances! He only reads, he stiffly explains, to improve his vocabulary.

Thompson gives the moment real heat; Stevens feels excited but emasculated and cornered. His wounded dignity drives her away. Rejected – but he clearly adores her too – but can’t. They just miss each other.

She had to pursue a man who barely gave an once of anything in return. She just sensed and felt he did. But nothing came out, just that hidden deep formidable reserve. She had to move around him and catch him off guard and do the thing women hate to do – put themselves out there in front of the man vulnerable and open – especially back then in the 1930’s, and especially working as the head maid. She had a lot of maneuvering to do and Emma glides onto the scene. Uplifting the quality in the atmosphere. We all wanted to kiss her. She was beautiful, always ready, funny, tough and had her strong beliefs about the girls who were Jewish that worked under her that she later had to send away and then admits, “I’m a coward, I have no where else to go, there you have it…” Wow. So present. She fits right into the playing of Miss Keaton’s social status. She’s the head housekeeper. Not at the bottom of the pile but at the top of the bottom. I thought perhaps with all of her accolades for Howard’s End that it might throw off her status in this role. But Emma Thompson is a gifted actress and (as we know) a brilliant writer and producer and probably a damn fine director in there too. She understands the ins and outs of a script and precisely what is needed. She never pulls focus from any of her ensemble players. But when our eyes go to her – she is ready and quiet literally lights up the screen. Not only does Emma have “It” but she understands “It’ as well. My only problem with this performance and it’s a small one is the poor make-up job at the end. It was and is a distraction, nothing wrong with her performance – but it bugged me and continues to bug me – I thought I’d get it out of my system.

They are a compelling duo, Hopkins and Thompson. You think that right after the played opposite each other in Howard’s End that the director and producer would want to find other actors to take on these roles. But they wanted the best…they got it. It’s both their best work in film.