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.

Shelley Duvall as Millie Lammoreaux in 3 WOMEN


SHELLEY DUVALL as Millie Lammoreaux in 3 WOMEN

Probably my favorite unseen performance of all time. Altman dreamed up the concept of 3 Women while sleeping by his wife's sickbed. He even dreamed the title and the casting of Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall and he knew that the story would somehow involve identity theft. But even that is too specific a description for this strange, beautiful and funny film. Altman has said that, of all his films, it comes the closest to eliciting a purely emotional reaction from the viewer.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times said in 1977

“Logic has nothing to do with films' effeciveness, though it does with all of the performances, beginning with Miss Duvall's. Millie Lammoreaux is the central figure in Robert Altman's funny, moving new film, "3 Women," and, as played as well as largely created by Shelley Duvall, she's one of the most memorable characterizations Mr. Altman has ever given us. Miss Duvall's large, round dark eyes are windows through which a tiny creature inside looks out upon a world whose complete disinterest Millie Lammoreaux refuses to accept.”

We all remember Shelley Duvall terrified face in the hotel bathroom as Jack Nicholson begins to break open the door from the other side in THE SHINNING. This film's performance by Shelley Duvall is a different kind of terrifying tale. A woman without a center. Without love in her life and is desperately is trying to be everything she says she is.

“Thoroughly Modern Millie”…Milie is like the the recipes she cuts out of Woman’s Day Magazine, ‘perfect’. Like her cannary yellow dress, her small apartment and hair cut, just perfect. Well, not quite. It’s doesn’t take long see right through Millie, she is frantically alone and of need of some sincere TLC - her loneliness is eerie, shocking and palpable. Relentlessly and deftly played by Shelley Duvall. It’s an in your face embarrassing to tenth degree rendering. Every molecule seems to scream for acceptance and love or just a little attention. Most of the journal entries and monologues and dialogue were created by Shelley Duvall herself. It’s an incredible performance. This film had no viewers when it was first release but later caught on with word of mouth and VHS and later DvD. I doubt with the reality TV brains that exist in today’s film taste would accept this ingenious and risky impressionistic film. People didn’t know how to take the film back then or the actors in it or what it all meant. Millie just made them uncomfortable and so did the other two women – Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule. But how deliciously uncomfortable Shelley Duvall is to watch.

Her coming down the stairs in the jumpsuit makes me howl every time I see it. Like genius satire – it’s high art at it’s best. Shelley striking a pose with every step trying the stir up the looks of the men sitting at the pool BBQ below – one man in particular – Tom, who always has cough. Millie makes it down to her favorite lounge chair a flips her new cosmopolitan, as all hip 70’s single women would do. Every turn of the page as though saying, 'look at me, look at me'! Nothing really for herself, no true desire or passion , everything , every move is a presentation of normal and sanity and beauty. Hysterical. It’s painful dream drama. Another great scene that will make cringe is when she joins the doctors in their commissary for lunch and sits between two of them, who talk right through her.

In a movie filled with mirrors, reflections, twins and multiple images. Millie always seems to be primping, making minute adjustments to her clothes and hair, perfecting her makeup, admiring herself in reflection while no one else seems to quite see her. So truthful it becomes funny because it is so uncomfortable to watch, you have to watch it again and again. Altman eerie dream keeps going full steam ahead – once it brings you in – largely due to Shelley Duvall incredible performance. I asked Mr. Altman about the dress in the car the car door, and he said, “Oh that happened once during one of the first takes and the DP pointed it out to me and we just keep doing it, it felt right and it felt right to Shelley”. Always working as a collaborator ‘ It felt right to Shelley”, and always available to find new things to throw into the mix to make his identity stealing drama work better.

Millie enjoys getting junks mail and fixing her curl and those tiny shrimp cocktail for her dinner party. Of course the guests never show and Millie comes undone.

Everyone else in the movie sees through her too ( but she thinks that they think she’s fabulous! – that’s what is so brilliant – the cruelty never affects her zealous or nerve) She's ignored even when she speaks directly to people, her party guests never arrive, and her plans for "hot dates" invariably end up with her going to the local dive bar -- which offers dirt bike racing and a gun range out back. The only people she gets are the tossed away old geezers at the gun range – whom she is flippant with and turns away from – of course. Looking back, it's ironic that 20th Century Fox, released both 3 Women and Star Wars the same year. The success of the latter caused the blockbuster system to click into place, which signaled the end of Altman's creative Hollywood phase. It’s sad really. This is what film could have been. Daring and unresting and personal with a ‘shining’ ( Get it Shining – Shelley Duvall was in the Shining.) performance at the center. Nevertheless, Altman quickly found a home in the independent movement and has continued to make fascinating films to his end.

Altman always points to Shelley when talking about how did he go about creating Millie. “I only had the idea – Shelley did all the work” Good casting Mr. Altman, rest in peace.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shirley MacLaine as Augora Greenway in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)



My childhood friends have been asking me when I’m going to write about Shirley MacLaine or Debra Winger in TERMS. Now that I’m older I probably would choose two different signature roles for both these actors. The movie just doesn’t hold up for me anymore. But, at the time, in 1983, and I had a very mature level of film-making and an adult taste, in terms of achievement, in acting and in quality films. I would have movies parties and friends would have movies parties and I would make all my seventh and eigth grade friends watch TERMS OF ENDEARMENT before watching anything else. At that point I had never seen anything like it – a movie that resembles life and the characters in my life. The people in this film were like the characters my world. The women in this movie were like the woman who raised me. It was my signature movie as a young teen. I was all about TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and I guess I have to honor that time. So now that I’m traveling back – I wanna talk about Shirley MacLaine. Even though the film oozes emotionality and a big score and result oriented moments without any real build up I still think the performances are incredible. Absolutely incredible, especially Shirley MacLaine. Shirley had always been an old school talent and played very well her APARTMENT and TURNING POINT leading lady roles. But I could feel the acting underneath. I could see the lines on the page. With TERMS OF ENDEARMENT she commits to the character on deeper level and becomes Aurora Greenway. The little looks off the tip of her nose, her breathe, the sounds she made, the eye roll, the squints... She just feels this woman like no one character before. It hits you in the middle of the chest – right in your heart. She’s my Aunt Linda. The leader of the family. She can’t help it.

When families get together to remember their times together, the conversation has a way of moving easily from tragedy to comedy.

You’ll mention a story from the past, one of those stories your cousin tells at the beginning of every Thanksgiving and it’s funny but laughter turns into anger and resentment by pumpkin pie. It’s layered in your own perspective and hurt but the smile on top remains, then you get home and say, “Never again, that’s our last Thanksgiving with those people”. But next Holiday you return like a faithful masochist. Or at a funeral of a loved one, possibly a loved one you have mixed emotions about and you get ‘the church giggles’ and can’t stop laughing. Life always has a way of turning up unhappy endings, but with family you can have a lot of fun along the way, and makes this life bearable. It doesn’t always have to be dripping in deep emotional pain and significance. The great thing about TERMS OF ENDEARMENT is that it finds the real balance between the happy moments in life and then the sad. The truth and the ridiculous, the unbearable with the acceptance and the love that remains to the troops: the family.

The movie begins with anxious, ferocious Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) clambering up over the side of her baby's crib and hurling herself on the tot, hysterically convinced that she has only seconds to administer the kiss of life to her darling Emma and save her from crib death. Naturally, all she does is disturb a healthy infant's sleep. From this scene it is obvious that TERMS OF ENDEARMENT is a a different kind of comedy.

As Brooks sees them, his movie's mother and daughter are actually sisters under the skin, connected not just by kinship but by subtle parallels of emotions and experience. Aurora appears initially to be no more than that familiar figure of satire, the American Mom as American Nightmare, all coy snarls and fierce demureness, while Emma, protected only by a thin skin of perkiness, seems to be her victim. "You aren't special enough to overcome a bad marriage," Aurora snaps on the eve of Emma's wedding, voicing her own fears about what might happen if she ventured outside her perfectly tended Texas house and garden. "I am totally convinced that if you marry Flap Morton tomorrow you will ruin your life and make wretched your destiny," she adds. As always with Brooks, locution is character.

A lesser movie would have had trouble moving between the extremes that are visited by this film, TERMS understands its characters and loves them, we never have a moment's doubt: What happens next is supposed to happen. Because life's like that.

The film feels as much like life as any movie I can think of. At the same time, it's a triumph of show business, with its high comic style, its flair for bittersweet melodrama and its star turns for the actors. Maybe the best thing about this movie is the way it combines those two different kinds of film-making. This is a movie with bold emotional scenes and big laughs, and at the same time it's so firmly in control of its tone that we believe we are seeing real people.

The movie's about two remarkable women and their relationships with each other and with the men in their lives.

Shirley MacLaine is Aurora, a widow who lives in Houston and hasn't dated a man since her husband died. Maybe she's redirected her sexual desires into the backyard, where her garden has grown so large and elaborate that she either will have to find a man pretty quickly or move to a house with a bigger yard.

Her daughter, played by Debra Winger, Emma is one of those people who seems to have been blessed with a sense of life and joy. She marries a guy named Flap who teaches English in a series of Midwestern colleges; she rears three kids and puts up with Flap, who has an eye for coeds. 

Back in Houston, her mother finally goes out on a date with the swinging bachelor – Jack Nicholson, mellow and ultra cool as ever, who has lived next door for years. He's a hard-drinking, girl-chasing former astronaut with a grin that hints of unspeakable lusts. MacLaine, a lady who surrounds herself with frills and flowers, is appalled by this animalistic man and then touched by him.

There are a couple of other bittersweet relationships in the film. Both mother and daughter have timid, mild-mannered male admirers: MacLaine is followed everywhere by Vernon, who asks only to be allowed to gaze upon her, and Winger has a tender, little affair with a banker. The years pass. Children grow up into adolescence, Flap gets a job as head of the department in Nebraska, the astronaut turns out to have genuine human possibilities of becoming quasi-civilized, and mother and daughter grow into a warmer and deeper relationship. All of this is told in a series of perfectly written, acted and directed scenes that flow as effortlessly as a perfect day, and then something happens that is totally unexpected, and changes everything.

Could these two find it in themselves to reverse this role reversal one more time and arrive at a balanced acceptance of each other? Emma's illness provides the occasion for that final adjustment. Inevitably her growing weakness draws the young woman back toward childish dependency, and the need to defend her daughter against suffering summons forth Aurora's old ferocity. Whether she is questioning empty medical practices or keeping poor Flap shaped up ("One of the nicest qualities about you is that you always recognized your weaknesses; don't lose that quality when you need it most") or bullying the nurse into administering a delayed sedative, MacLaine achieves a kind of cracked greatness, climax to a brave, bravura performance. Her entire body gives way to the anguish of her daughters situation and despair. The scene in at the airport when she’s tired and tells Bredlove she loves him and makes that big circle back to get his answer. It’s just so full of tragedy and comedy – love and pain and bare bones rawness that you give way to the obvious emotional turns of the film-maker. She’s so ‘in it’ and full and emotional that by the time Debra looks at her mom for the last time – you are in that connection whether you want to be or not. You are outside of your body, flowing somewhere in-between that loving connection of mother and daughter. I used this movie as a barometer of whether or not my friends had a heart or not – And they all did. The movie parties always ended in tears and I was a very happy seventh grader.

Aurora Greenway is a character that become part of America’s family after everything is finished. Augora, like my Aunt Linda is someone we all want in our lives and someone that anchors the love – even though it comes out in a loud bark, belly laugh, jab or critique. Well done Shirly MacLaine and great OSCAR speech. My brother just realized that Warren Beatty is her little brother. Yes bro, they’re related.