Tuesday, May 10, 2011

CHER as Loretta Castorini in MOONSTRUCK


Brilliant in SILKWOOD, which will probably make my top 100 favs – that last moment just kills me. MASK had some great moments, especially when she finds out her son has passed away, she literally comes undone, wrecking her Sunland Valley home and then sticking pins in his beloved Europe poster telling him he can ‘now go wherever he wants'.  I even thought she was really good in SUSPECT. I know – Cher as a lawyer – but I liked it. As for her signature work, I’d have to agree with the OSCAR voters, she is exceptional in John Patrick Shanley and Norman Jewison’s MOONSTRUCK.  A fantastic ensemble. Like WORKING GIRL, it’s a big 'Cinderella' romantic comedy set in the Italian American Brooklyn and NY areas but the film also deals with some serious heartaches, male shortcomings and female superstitions. It’s a great film about elusive things that hold real power under the surface of human behavior, not just for Italian Americans: old grudges, vendettas, deep wounds, superstitions, and loneliness. Blame it on the moon. Love, romance and its desire for either, too, has a strange power over us, affecting our judgment, and making people take risks rather than playing it safe. Centered on the Castorini family, 'Moonstruck' is about all these things and so much more, like good food, family tradition, money, growing old together and that age-old question of why men chase after younger women… This comedy is very much about the crazy things we do when the moon is out and full.
What is most remarkable about this performance from Cher is her listening and her reactions: her stillness. When someone’s talking, this character can’t hide her true feelings, whether it’s sarcastic, lust filled, or frustrated to rage…her KNOWING deadpan looks are extraordinary and very funny. The comedy comes from her history of men going the wrong way, and being left in the wake of their mistakes - accidents "he got hit by a bus". It’s not just because we feel we know Cher that it works – it works because she’s a really good actress. She takes us to places where we have great fear in acknowledging in our own lives. It’s a dynamite performance.

A scene I play for my acting class on how ‘mimic and mock repetition’ can work - the first scene with Cher and Vincent Gradenia, where Cher tells her father she’s going to get married and she needs him to give her away in a church, instead of City Hall , so she doesn’t have ‘bad luck’. The non-verbal looks, the rhythm, how they match vocal tone / volume, physical gesturing, even the eyeballs – it’s brilliant and shows early on in the film that Cher is gifted comedian. Another tiny moment I love right off the bat is when the owner of the flower shop hands her a flower. The way her face lets go for a moment and you honestly feel how touched and appreciative she is..."Thank you Carmine". She waits the perfect amount of time before saying her line. That's good acting. Taking that brief moment. Having the confidence that she could deliver true feeling without speaking - glorious.

Down the smallest of roles – the grandfather and the store owners – are perfectly cast. Real looking people that have talent that add wonderfully to the films authenticity.

John Patrick Shanley's witty and insightful script puts an octet of New Yorkers under a lunar spell one romantic night. There’s a beautiful ethereal quality to MOONSTRUCK – a quality that is under the entire – the shots of the moon, the moon’s reflection through the lace curtains, and there’s magic behind all the actors performances. Even Nic Cage – who for some in this film was like slightly over-cooked pasta. I think it’s amongst his best work. Right up there with ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ and ‘Adaptation’. His odd-ball choices and largeness were perfect for this unusual oddball character with a wooden hand and smoldering primitive sex appeal.

CHER won the OSCAR that year against very though competition:

Holly Hunter in BROADCAST NEWS, Meryl Streep in IRONWEED, Sally Kirkland in ANNA, Glenn Close in FATAL ATTRACTION.

It's hard to imagine another actress playing the lovelorn, guilt-stricken Loretta with such soulful panache. And who else could have pulled off such gigantic hair? The transformation wasn’t the unbelievable part – we know Cher knows how to get dolled up, but it’s the beginning, with the greys, when life’s beaten her down and she’d settled into neighborhood that was so amazing. Big Love to Cher – historic powerhouse performances that year… I think the Academy got it right with their selection. Somehow, even though she’s already had a giant career, Cher is always the underdog. That’s a gift. It’s rare when a female actor wins the OSCAR that the crowd leaps to their feet.  They did this year ( maybe thx to Meryl, always a class act) – way to go CHER!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011



Smart, sexy, tall, hard working – Sigourney Weaver is one of the best under-appreciated actors ever. You can feel her dissecting her roles like a really dedicated archaeologist. Digging around, carefully dusting off her choices until one feels absolutely perfect. I was going to talk about ALIENS first but the one that I watch with silent awe is her turn as Katherine Parker in WORKING GIRL. I love the character's name even, Katherine Parker, it just sounds like a lil pampered brat who was dropped off to kindergarten in a limo. Great writing. Great Director. Great Actress. A thankless role that could have easily gone caricature, but in Weaver's perfect stylized acting hands – it’s a zealous experience. Something about her combination of steeliness and joy that makes me both happy and pissed. Pissed, in a good way. I have issues with those blue blooded types that have had everything handed to them and can’t discern ‘want’ from ‘need’. They need everything and usually get it. Her entitled, pampered, corporate beast is the perfect antagonist in this irresistible fairy tale romantic comedy. It’s not a laugh out loud comedy like ARTHUR, the Dudley Moore ‘Arthur’, it’s a smile all the way through comedy like TOOTSIE.

She's condescending and patronizing but she believes her own propaganda so thoroughly and sweetly that you can’t help but buy into her bumper sticker slogans, “Watch me, learn from me Tess”. Her notes are direct, but softly always cushions the helpful blow, "I'd re-think the jewelry". Under Katharine's tutelage, Tess comes up with new ideas, like a suggestion that dim sum be served at a business reception. ''I'd love to help you,'' Katharine whispers smoothly to the perspiring Tess, ''but we can't busy the quarterback with passing out the Gatorade, Artie.!.”

Comedy is difficult and as film continues to aim for younger and younger (and dumber) crowds, these kinds of witty / smart comedies are becoming more and more a thing of the past. ‘The Style’ (level / tone) of the comedy has to have been an agreed upon by all departments and actors early on in the process. The level / tone has to be dialed in just right. Any actor that breaks from the style and plays the joke or goes for the cheap laugh…the entire structure could break. Joan did it a couple of times, (“Let’s give her a shout, shall we”, "You decent?" “Coffee, Tea, ME” ) but that’s OK, she brought it back. She was able to do a little shtick and bring the reality of the scene back. All of this has to be monitored by the director, and no better a maestro for this creative orchestra than Mike Nichols. This comedy has a very specific style and tone to it. It’s not just a standard Romantic Comedy. It’s a reality, but a fairy tale reality. Big hair, big colors, big music, almost an expressionistic style. But it has to be played for real, but it can be dialed up big but not overdone big. Sigourney Weaver plays it perfectly. In the right pocket of the films tone. The comedy comes from her manner, not because she thinks she’s being funny or has a funny line. It comes out of her characters truth, her characters limitations / flaws. Her frustrations, and exile is what gets us. That comes from understanding the script, knowing drama and styles of comedies past, and working closely with the director. It’s hard talking to new actors about 'style'.  They think I’m talking about fashion. A current sample of playing the right style / tone of a comedy is Gwyneth Paltrow on GLEE. Now I don't love love love that show, but she matched the style of the show perfectly, the fast, rat-tit-tat-tat line delivery, the quick cuts. She understood the piece as a whole – not just her part. She kept her eye on the prize, the entire entity.  Actors, mediocre actors, sometimes lose that perspective – because well - they’re selfish - and don't like to read.

Sigourney Weaver is a brilliant actress. What she did in this role was hysterical and embarrassing. Playing ‘the fool’ isn’t easy. It’s often like playing someone of lesser intelligence, you end of commenting on the character – rather than relishing the part. The physical stuff at the end was the entire movie. She puts perfume on, throws a shawl over her cast and then Harrison pulls it off and she leans forward still pursuing him, swallowing a slight humiliation but never giving in. Much like the ending when she really has to swallow her male like pride. She excuses herself, the way she walks away in her crutches, and she still holds her chin up as she moves away – GENIUS - a temporary loss. Wicked beasts like Katherine Parker don’t stay down long. They’ll go home and quickly rationalize the entire experience as ‘a difficult work week’ and be back in the game somewhere else Monday, making some other secretaries' life a living hell.

Nominated twice that year. Supporting here for WORKING GIRL and lead in GORILLAS IN THE MIST. I really felt she should have won the OSCAR  that year. Not just cause it was a big year for her, but because she truly deserved it.