Musings on 2021 Oscars – The Good, The Bad + the WTF

It’s Oscars Sunday and I actually don’t feel as overwhelmed as I had been as year’s past as I actually remember Oscars is on tonight so I had time to prepare and set up my laptop downstairs instead of scrambling to live tweet, ahah. Now, I wish I had timed my laundry on time as I still had to pick up my load during commercials! Nothing like mundanity of real life to go with all the glitz and glamour! 😀

I have to say though that I quite like the more low-key ceremony with tables so people can social distance… it feels more relaxed, cozy and intimate. But unlike the Golden Globes, still no drinks, ha! I also like the fact that the song performances were shown before the actual telecast to cut time, and the fact that they were done outdoors are pretty cool as well. This is actually my favorite song nominated this year… written by the legendary Diane Warren!

 

I love Regina King doing the opening monologue wearing one of my favorite Oscar dresses of the night! I expected Minneapolis would got a mention… wish it were for another reason though. In any case, if you missed it, here’s the video: 

THE GOOD

First Oscar went to a woman, yay!!

Incredible that Emerald Fennell won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for her feature directorial debut Promising Young Woman –  similar to Diablo Cody who won for JUNO in 2008. But she also directed AND produced the film, all while she was pregnant, wow!!

emerald-fennell


Two more women won within the first half hour, both for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom!!

marainey
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): Viola Davis as Ma Rainey. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson won for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling AND Ann Roth won for Best Achievement in Costume Design!


I’m still kicking myself that I haven’t seen MINARI, yet! But Yuh-Jung Youn didn’t just win for her performance in Minari, but for having the most adorable Oscar speech of the night! Her expression when her name was called is priceless!!


Chloe Zhao is having a moment… the woman is such a force that I know this is just the beginning for her!!


The phenomenally talented Trent Reznor + Atticus Ross are double nominees tonight for MANK and SOUL. I’ve only seen the latter and I absolutely LOVE the score for SOUL, so yeah!!


Nomadland and Chloé Zhao making all kinds of history tonight just made my heart soar!!! One of the only two Best Picture nominees I saw on the big screen before it was actually released. Thanks to Twin Cities Film Fest!!


[Added 4/26] – Since I posted it right after the ceremony ended. I went to bed hoping I’d see a video of Sir Anthony Hopkins‘ Oscar speech. Well here it is… the Welsh thespian is as gracious as ever, even paying tribute to fellow nominee Chadwick Boseman who everyone thought would’ve won this year.


THE BAD

  • What’s with Brad Pitt not helping Yuh-Jung Youn from her podium when the 73 year-old woman clearly could use some help… and even if she didn’t, it would’ve been the chivalrous thing to do.
  • I’m not crazy with the fact that they didn’t show clips of the nominees, only a few categories including Best Picture were shown clips.
  • I didn’t care for the trivia bit, overall it just felt awkward and they could’ve given more time to other things we actually care about.
  • They’re rushing through everything in the final hour… especially during what’s supposed to be a solemn IN MEMORIAM sequence. It’s egregious to rush THAT sequence, but it’s especially terrible given how many people we lost in 2020.
  • What’s with the BEST PICTURE being presented before the Best Actor + Actress announcement?? The Best Picture has always been the last award of the night, that is tradition. I mean WHY?? It doesn’t exactly save time to change the order and it just didn’t feel right. I feel like they also didn’t allow the winning team, in this case NOMADLAND, to bask in this achievement somehow.

THE WTF

Now, this category isn’t automatically bad… they’re just completely out of left field!

Ok so I haven’t got around to seeing Judas and the Black Messiah but happy for the talented Daniel Kaluuya. He was rambling quite a bit in his speech but hey, that made for one of the funniest moments of the night!


Well, expect a new Glenn Close meme coming on Monday, folks!! I guess this is one of the fun things that came out of the whole trivia bit.


Though I was flabbergasted that I did not hear Chadwick Boseman‘s name called in the Best Actor category who deserved the post-humous nomination NOT because he’s gone but because he gave an outstanding, heart-wrenching performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom… but no, I’m not going to complain that Anthony Hopkins won (or worse, getting mad at the actor for winning like some people on Twitter – SMH) I was in awe of his performance depicting a man suffering from dementia in The Father… and the fact that he wasn’t even campaigning at all during award season just showed what a gracious person he is. He didn’t even appoint anyone to accept the award on his behalf!


Last but not least…

Now, I don’t think anyone saw it coming that Frances McDormand would win Best Actress!! I mean, despite my love for Nomadland, I didn’t think Frances’ performance was out of this world the way Viola Davis and Carey Mulligan did in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Promising Young Woman, respectively.


Ok I’m hoping Marvel is listening!!


In conclusion…

Heh, what a night! Despite some historic wins that made me happy, the ceremony itself is bonkers!! There are just too many weird things… some of the speeches went on way too long (wish someone cut off the last bit of Kaluuya’s speech), and some barely got enough time in. Again, the announcement weird switcheroos made no sense at all… and what’s with the abrupt end after they realized Anthony Hopkins weren’t present?? At the very least they could’ve shown a clip of his performance?? Something??

Some were saying that whoever directed the event must have been convinced Chadwick Boseman would win Best Actor, and that’s why they re-arranged so that his category is last. Well if that is the case, that’s just a terrible decision that proves to be a disservice to everyone.


Oh, speaking of my predictions I posted on Saturday, I only got 14/23 categories I predicted correctly. That’s actually pretty good considering I haven’t seen SO many and mostly these are based on gut instincts, ahah.


So did you watch the Oscars? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter Review: NOMADLAND (2021)

I actually saw this one a few months ago at Twin Cities Film Fest. It was my pick of film of the month in October and also earns a spot on my Top 10 Best list of 2020. Nomadland is  about a woman named Fern (Frances McDormand) who lost everything in the Great Recession sets off on a journey through the American West with her van. The last film of Chloé Zhao that I watched, The Rider, showed a slice of life from a world I’m not familiar with and this time she showed life of modern-day nomad.

The film is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Jessica Bruder. The book documents stories of dispossessed older Americans (mostly 50s-60s) who face the largest reversal in retirement security in American history and ends up becoming workampers — working while living out of an RV or a tent. Fern is one of those people, having lost her husband, her job at a US Gypsum plant, and ultimately her old-company town Empire, Nevada, which died with the factory closure in 2011.

Now, the film doesn’t delve too much into the background of the economic crisis or the capital/government greed that causes them, but it explores a human story told through the perspective someone who choose to live that life. It seems that even though it’s obviously a tough life uprooting oneself into living in a ratty van, sans the comfort most house-dwellers take for granted, Fern and her fellow nomads seems content, even happy living this way. There’s a memorable scene of Fern saying “I’m not homeless, I’m just houseless,” with a defiant glee when friends offer her a place to stay. The film shows her working various jobs, most notably Amazon warehouses, and at times struggling to even get seasonal work. It seems like a lonely life, but there is actually a close-knit community that sustain them and this film actually features real nomads, Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells, who are featured in Bruder’s book. They become friends and mentors for Fern.

The film features a quiet yet intricate performance from McDormand, who apparently did some method acting for the role as she actually slept in a van used in the film for a while. Most of the time she only gets to act with her expressions as there are countless of shots of her gazing into the vast, beautiful landscape… and a brief shot of her serenely floating in a pool of water stark naked (I wonder if that’s what garnered this film an R rating?!). I find Fern as a fascinating character, but also frustrating and hard to warm up to, not sure if this is because the film never allowed us to really get to know her.

During her journey, Fern meets a fellow workcamper named Dave (David Strathrain, the only other prominent actor in the film) and the two strikes a tentative friendship. They end up working a part-time job together, but when Dave’s son visits him, Dave ends up staying with him in a large house on the country. Dave invites Fern to join him and later we see Fern come and visit him. It’s perhaps the only time we see Fern sleeping in a bed inside, but it’s interesting to see that she’s no longer comfortable living within the confines of a house. McDormand’s nuanced performance conveys the feeling that living day to day in the same place, same environment, despite all the comfort, would actually infringes on her sense of freedom.

Though not much happens in this film, there’s actually a lot to mull over and reflect upon. It made me think of certain aspects of my own life and others close to me, what I would do if I were in her situation. The scene of her walking in her old company town that’s now desolate is quite heart-wrenching. I was curious if Fern would actually consider Dave’s invitation and start a new life again as she once did… living with a new family (albeit an adopted one) and live in a real home again. The finale shows Fern’s decision without much words being spoken, but yet it packs a punch. Nomadland is truly a graceful, poetic, reflective film, boasted by stunning cinematography by DP Joshua James Richards and beautiful, serene music by composer Ludovico Einaudi.

After watching this, I’ve become even more of a fan of Chloé Zhao’s remarkable storytelling style. It’s so refreshing that Zhao features a woman over 50 in a leading role, which is a rarity given Hollywood’s issue with ageism. I can’t wait to see Eternals, especially after hearing Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige quote saying that her pitch was the best he’s ever heard, apparently it’ll be a very big, sweeping, multi-millennial-spaning story (per this article). So even if you’re not typically into slower-paced dramas, I still highly recommend Nomadland. It’s a study of restraint in its minimalism, almost stripped bare of frills in terms of special effects or unnecessary dialog, but done to great effect.

Have you seen NOMADLAND? Well, what did you think?

Thursday Movie Picks: Films Directed by a Female Director

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday everyone! I’m a bit late to the TMP party but I love this week’s topic that I still want to participate. The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Films Directed by a Female Director.

I have to admit I hadn’t seen as many films by female directors as much as I should. There are still a few movies I’m hoping to see later this month that are directed by women: Promising Young Woman, Wonder Woman 1984, One Night in Miami, to name a few.

Well, for this week’s TMP, I thought I’d pick two movies I saw in 2020 and one underrated movie by a female director that I haven’t talked about on this blog but I really think people should check out.

In any case, here are my three picks:

On The Rocks (2020)

Directed by Sofia Coppola

A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.

I mentioned this on my November recap that I decided to watch this after listening to a review of it on NPR. The idea of seeing a movie set in NYC where the characters roamed around Manhattan and having drinks at a swanky speakeasy bar like the 21 Club just sounds so enchanting during lockdown. I was living vicariously through Bill Murray and Rashida Jones, who play father and daughter in this Sofia Coppola dramedy.

I mentioned that there’s a bit of a Woody Allen-ish vibe to this movie. Now what I mean by that is Coppola seems to only make movies about affluent people and their problems just seem so trivial, perhaps even more so during a pandemic where people are dealing with live and death situations. In any case, I think the movie has its charm, but not exactly the director’s best work.


Nomadland (2020)

Directed by Chloé Zhao

After losing everything in the Great Recession, a widow embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.

This was my pick of Movie of the Month in October. I was going to do a review of it this month but since its wide release is delayed until February 2021, I’ll delay my review until next year. I first saw Chloé Zhao‘s work in The Rider which was such a pleasant surprise. I love that she immerses herself in the subject matter and tackle her films with a curious mind that makes her films so thought-provoking. Mixing veteran actors (David Strathairn has a supporting role here) with non-actors, it’s an intriguing character study with a serene, quiet grace.

Confession: I still haven’t seen Frances McDormand‘s Oscar-winning turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but judging from its trailer, this is quite a different role for her. Her character Fern is taciturn and reflective, requiring McDormand to act with her eyes and mannerism alone. If you don’t mind a slow-paced film, and there is not much going on here, your patience will be rewarded. Plus, the visuals of Zhao’s films are always astounding.

 


Their Finest (2016)

Directed by Lone Scherfig

A former secretary, newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films, joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them.

This movie has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet it flew so much under the radar. It’s too bad as it’s such a terrific film set during the London Blitz of WWII, starring the lovely Gemma Arterton who I also think is an underrated actress.

I like films about filmmaking and this one centers on the making of propaganda films. Arterton’s character Catrin Cole ends up investigating the story of two young women who supposedly piloted a boat in the Dunkirk Evacuation. The always-watchable Bill Nighy is fun to watch here as an actor named Ambrose Hilliard who’s hired as the leading man. There’s a tentative romance between Catrin and screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) but I wouldn’t categorize this as a rom-com, more of a dramedy.

I highly recommend this one which is available on streaming and free on HBO Max. In fact, I just might have to watch this again soon!


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?

New Trailer + Poster Spotlight: Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

Something super fun just arrived in my inbox today! I was in the middle of a rather long, tedious training for my new job, but upon opening this email, a huge smile formed on my face!

Ooooh!! I absolutely adore this poster, I wish I could have it to hang on my wall right now! Wes Anderson‘s upcoming movie has The Adventures of Tintin vibe to it, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé that I grew up reading religiously as a kid.

Here’s the premise…

THE FRENCH DISPATCH brings to life a collection of stories from the final issue of an American magazine published in a fictional 20th-century French city. It stars Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson.

What a cast!! I know lots of [thirsty] people are going nuts over ‘it boy’ Timothée Chalamet writing naked in a bath tub 🤣 – I didn’t even notice him until an article specifically mentioned about it in the headline! In any case, I wonder if he’ll actually be speaking French in the movie? The internet would probably spontaneously combust!

Upon further reading, the Tintin vibe seems intentional given Tintin is a globe-trotting reporter. Per Wiki, the film has been described as “a love letter to journalists set at an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city”, centering on three storylines.

When speaking to French publication Charente Libre last year, Anderson noted: “The story is not easy to explain, [It’s about an] American journalist based in France [who] creates his magazine. It is more a portrait of this man, of this journalist who fights to write what he wants to write. It’s not a movie about freedom of the press, but when you talk about reporters you also talk about what’s going on in the real world.”

Per tradition of Wes Anderson’s movies, it’s another awesome ensemble cast, many of whom have worked with the Texas-born filmmaker. The screenplay was written by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman.

Now here’s the trailer! 

It’s classic Wes w/ his usual visual flair, distinct camera work and quirks! I love it!! It looks so much like Grand Budapest Hotel and I saw some of the cast are back as well. I can’t wait to step into this world of global journalism filled w/ intrigue and idiosyncrasies.

It’s scheduled to be released on July 24.


What do you think of The French Dispatch?

TCFF 2017 Reviews: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri + Blue Balloons

It’s just two days left in TCFF and I’m playing catch-up with posting reviews! You might’ve noticed I’ve got to post a couple of things in a day at times… too many films too little time (both to watch and to review!)

Well, below are couple of reviews from Day 6 and 7.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
review by Andy Ellis

It’s described as a dark comedy, but writer and director Martin McDonagh’s newest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has a lot more to offer. The film, led by Frances McDormand who plays Mildred who causes some small town chaos by using three billboards to ask local officials why they haven’t found her daughter’s murderer and rapist yet.

A subject such as this must be treaded upon carefully, and it’s done very well here. The humor comes from the fact that none of the characters hold anything back. Mildred has has no problem telling the local priest how she really feels, or anyone else for that matter. Sam Rockwell shines as Dixon,  a small-minded Sheriff’s Deputy with a short temper ends up costing him dearly in one key scene. If there’s a character who keeps his calm the best in the story it’s Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, the main target of Mildred’s billboard messages.

It’s also a film with a lot of heart in it as well, and it helps round out the characters. One scene causes causes Mildred to switch moods so fast you’ll realize that beneath that pissed-off no-nonsense barrier is a mother that just wants her daughter back. And this role may even earn McDormond some awards recognition, and then same goes for Rockwell.

The rest of the cast rounds out the story pretty well, too, with each one getting their own chance to shine—and they do. Lucas Hodges plays Mildred’s son Robbie who isn’t all on board with his mom’s methods, and Abbie Cornish plays the Sheriff’s wife Anne. Caleb Landry Jones has great scenes as Red Welby the owner of the billboards, and Peter Dinklage has a very small but memorable role. John Hawkes plays Charlie, Mildred’s ex-husband, and Samara Weaving steals the show a couple times as Penelope, Charlie’s young girlfriend.

This film is a great mix of everything, and throws more than a few a surprises in there as well. The acting is superb and it’ll leave you wanting more. Now if only more films would grab a hold of you like this one did.


BLUE BALLOONS
Review by Ruth Maramis

This is one of the films with a Minnesota connection that I actually didn’t know much about. So I pretty much going in blindly about the story, other than the fact that the story deals with a terminal illness.

Right from the start, this film feels deeply personal. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but Blue Balloons is an honest, realistic story about a family gripping with the complexity of cancer. Written, directed and produced by Emily Troedson, who also acts as the eldest daughter Claire of the Kippson family, the story is told from her perspective. I like that it paints the day-to-day life of the family in a matter-of-fact, candid way… especially in the way Claire is questioning her faith and her existence in a devout Lutheran community.

Chari and Emily in Blue Balloons

The film’s pacing is a bit slow and really tries your patience at times. I have to say some of the acting by the supporting cast aren’t convincing (crying with no tears visible??), but overall it’s a well-crafted piece with genuinely poignant moments as well as interesting artistic choices. I wish there were more mother-daughter relationship being explored here, though I think the dynamic of the family is portrayed pretty well.

Chari Eckmann as Joanne

I connected most with Emily’s character and she did an amazing job juggling so many roles in the film. Being a daughter who dealt with an ill mother at a young age, there are parts that was hard to watch for me. I also have to commend Chari Eckmann‘s performance (as the cancer-stricken Joanne), her emotional transformation and deterioration throughout the film is believable.

Glad to see so many talented writer/director like Emily having their films at TCFF! I sure hope she continues to make films in the future.


There’s more films and festivities to be had at TCFF!

 

The Flix List: First Impression from Second Stringers

Greetings all and sundry. Allow me a few moments of your time to delve into an area first experienced as a child. That has reliably borne fruit for more than a few decades. The excitement of seeing a fresh face for the first time plying his or her craft and watching them swing for the fences. Or not. But leaving something worthwhile and memorable in that first meeting. To plant a seed and look for and sometimes anticipate a second or third meeting and follow their careers in cinematic story telling.

To that end, I’ve assembled ten then novitiates. Their initial roles that sparked my interest and where their talents and career have taken them since then.

First Impressions from Second Stringers.


10. Lee Marvin

First caught my attention in a brief, sometimes scary role as a sweaty greasy spoon fry cook with a secret life in a no budget, 1955 Red Scare film titled ‘Shack Out on 101’. Not surprising, Mr. Marvin’s character was named ‘Slob’ and he lived up to that name with disgustingly carefree glee. Going out of his way to provoke fights, when not trying to force himself on his boss’s wife as she sunbathes in a cove around Big Sur.

There was something shocking, vile and oddly intriguing and admirable in watching an actor be so free and comfortable in his own lean, leathery, sinewed skin while playing someone so intimidating and revolting. Traits that would rise again in ‘The Wild One’,  ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’, ‘The Big Heat’,’The Caine Mutiny’ and ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. Later toned it down for  ‘Point Blank’, ‘Hell in the Pacific’, ‘Emperor of the North’ and ‘The Professionals’. Then turned it inside out for his split roles as Kid Sheleen and Strawn in ‘Cat Ballou’.

9. Patricia Neal

First crossed my path as a roving radio show interviewer in ‘A Face in the Crowd’ from 1957. Where she crosses the path of drunken, itinerant hobo, Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes (Andy Griffith) and is quite taken by his talents, down home humor and prowess at spinning yarns (Story Telling). Soon sees him as her ticket out of the backwater sticks of Arkansas while slowly falling under his Svengali charms. Ms. Neal’s Marcia Jeffries shows vulnerability while trying to keep Rhodes in check from being an aspiring, corrupt Senator’s front man. Then steels herself to sabotage Rhodes after his appearance on a local television show. With an open microphone as Rhodes displays his contempt for others. In Elia Kazan’s scathing opus to the marketing of  modern politics.

With such a powerful introduction, it’s always been fun when Ms. Neal shows up in a film. Sometimes as a leading lady and holding her own opposite Paul Newman in ‘Hud’.  Or John Wayne in ‘Operation Pacific’ and ‘In Harm’s Way’. Though more often in a secondary player. As in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’.

8. James Coburn

I have low budget master of Randolph Scott westerns, Budd Boetticher to thank for having Mr. Coburn show up on Saturday afternoons after chores were done. Tall, lean with ropy arms and a watchful, quiet demeanor as Whit. The second or third Right Hand Man of black hatted and attired, Pernell Roberts’ bad guy, Sam Boone in ‘Ride Lonesome’ from 1959.

There was something about Mr. Coburn. Taller than Lee Marvin, though possessing the same cat~like fluidity of movement with just a bit of Steve McQueen cool and swagger. Easily holding the camera through countless television episodes and small, then larger roles in films. Before finding his niche as knife throwing Britt in ‘The Magnificent Seven’. A film that launched many careers. With Mr. Coburn backing up Mr. McQueen in ‘Hell Is for Heroes’ and ‘The Great Escape’. Then carrying along opposite James Garner in ‘The Americanization of Emily’ in 1964 and Charlton Heston in ‘Major Dundee’ a year later.

Deftly switching to comedy and expanding his coolness factor as Derek Flint in two films. When not playing high end thieves in ‘Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round’, ‘Duffy’ and ‘Waterhole #3’ and finally as ‘The President’s Analyst’. Before delivering what is quite possibly his best performance in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’. Then becoming the Actor Emeritus in far too many television show, made for TV and big screens movies to count.

7. Ellen Page

An actress who came completely out of left field as a red hooded 14 year old gamine with an agenda in 2005’s Hard Candy’. A small budgeted independent revenge film from 2005 that deals with Pedophilia and the death of Ms. Page’s Haley Stark’s best friend,  Donna Maurer. Who had come to a grisly end after meeting an older (32 years old) man at a local coffee shop.

What struck me about Ms. Page’s performance is the sophistication and maturity of thought brought to the fore from the film’s opening scene. Where Haley is chatting on the same site last used by Donna. Setting up the mark, Jeff (Patrick Wilson), who is a lot less clever and more vulnerable, due possibly to repetition  than he thinks he is. They meet. Seduction occurs with the aide of some doctored Screwdrivers. Jeff comes to and finds himself tied to a wheeled computer chair and the games begin!

Psychological for the most part. Humiliating and demeaning as Haley stays three moves ahead. Holds all the trump cards. And twists Jeff into all sorts of contortions before the inevitable happens and Haley walks away. Perhaps satisfied. Perhaps towardsher next victim.

A performance like that immediately put Ms. Page on my radar. Though she made a quite serviceable Kitty Pride and ‘Shadowcat’ in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’. It was her later performance in ‘Juno’ a year later that reinforced my belief that I was watching an exceptional talent. Holding her own in the world of Austin, Texas Roller Derby in ‘Whip It’ before finally coming to play with Chris Nolan and the big boys. As maze mistress, and architect, Ariadne in ‘Inception‘.

6. Joe Mantegna

If there ever was a guy made to add gravitas to the words of David Mamet. It’s this guy, right here! My first impasse with Mr. Mantegna was in 1987 in the film, ‘House of Games’. Mamet’s directorial debut into the sometimes seamy, sometimes glitzy world of mid range grifters and con men. Amongst the smoke hazed, grimy dives and pool halls and elegant hotels around Seattle. Where Mr. Mantegna’s ‘Mike’ is the smooth, suave, undisputed King of his crew. Who happens across an icy, though slowly thawing psychiatrist, Margaret Ford. Flawlessly played by Lindsay Crouse. Who seeks out Mike to intervene in a $25,000 gambling debt owed by one of her patients.

Knowing a mark when he sees one, Mike takes Margaret through a tentative tour and taste of his world. Which she seems to like. Aiding Mike in a relatively high stakes poker game by flirting and spotting the ‘tells’ of the other players. Then deflating the bravado of one player who tries to steal the huge pot with the aid of a leaking Luger squirt gun. The hook is sunken deep as Margaret forgets her patients and proves to be just as obsessive and compulsive as the people she writes about in her best selling books. Helping out in another larger con that doesn’t go to the script. The wheels come off and Mike and Margaret have a final fatal tête-à-tête in an airport luggage dock before Mike tries to flee.

Mr. Mantegna’s Mike put the actor high up on my ‘To Watch List’. Where his versatility shone through as a sympathetic Mafia gofer, Jerry. Opposite Don Ameche in another Mamet gem, Things Change’ a year later. Hitting a solid double as Joey Zasa in the less than great ‘Godfather: Part III’ in 1990. Then knocking it out of the park as Baltimore Homicide Detective Bobby Gold in the Mamet written and directed ‘Homicide’. Who has a moment of clarity and faith regarding his religion while taking down on the run street thug, drug dealer and cop killer, Randolph; wondrously played by Ving Rhames.

Then rising again like a Phoenix in ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’ in 1993. As every day dad and sports writer, Fred Waitzkin. Whose very young son, Josh is an undiscovered Chess prodigy. Regularly winning against all comers. Either in Central Park or musty inner sanctum clubs. Dividing his time between hustler, Laurence Fishburne and Chess Master, Bruce Pandolfini. Played humorlessly by Ben Kingsley. Fred recognizes Josh’s talents as Quality Time is made during trips and tournaments in a surprisingly humane, family friendly film. Where the grown up behave as grown ups and Max Pomeranc’s Josh behaves exactly as a kid would. Showing great potential while nonchalantly stealing every scene he’s in!

Mr. Mantegna’s later work in television, mini series, made for TV movies and voice acting speaks for itself. Though he seems to have revisited and expounded upon his every dad, Fred. As Detective Will Girardi in CBS’s ‘Joan of Arcadia’ from 2003 to 2005.

5. Ellen Barkin

First caught my eye and attention as the hard as nails, cold as ice leader of a smash and grab diamond crew, Sunny Boyd, in Walter Hill’s 1989 Neo~Noir ‘Johnny Handsome’. Sashaying into a local merchant’s shop, distractingly resplendent in low cut, tight black leather. Before pistol whipping the owner and smashing display cases as Lance Henricksen, Scott Wilson and a grossly disfigured Mickey Rourke (Johnny) fleece the place clean. Before an alarm sounds, and Johnny is shot and left for dead.

Thus begins a very well and frugally executed tale of revenge. As Johnny is convicted and sent to a Louisiana penal farm. Where he is shanked and sent to the hospital to be patched up and eventually given a new face, courtesy of Forrest Whittaker. A liberal facial surgeon with a large grant in need of a Guinea Pig. Johnny is released with a new name and face and a job on the docks that allow him to split his time from nice girl, Donna McCarty (Elizabeth McGovern) and trying to connect with Sunny and Rafe (Henricksen).

Sunny is at first intrigued by Johnny. Even more so as Johnny slips and has trouble keeping his stories straight. Setting the stage for a moonlit and street lamp slashed showdown as Morgan Freeman’s Lt. A. Z. Drones knowingly looks on.

One heck of an introduction to an actress who would dominate the Bad Girl/Femme Fatale arena for five years with ‘Sea of Love’ and ‘Bad Company’. Then turning on a dime and delivering a klutzi-ly believable turn as lecherous Perry King stuck inside a stiletto heeled, gorgeous blonde’s body in Blake Edwards’ ‘Switch’ from 1991. Watching Ms. Barkin struggle in spikes and short or pencil skirts is well seeking out or worth the price of admission.

Which caused a search for Ms. Barkin’s earlier works. Where she established herself as the damaged relation in ‘Tender Mercies’ and Lumet’s take on the surviving son of the Rosenberg Trial in ‘Daniel’ from 1983. Where Ms. Barkin played Timothy Hutton’s radical wife, Phyllis. Then keeping busy as the smart woman reporter in ‘Eddie and the Crusiers’ and damsel in distress in ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Across the 8th Dimension’ the following year. Before switching up to be the determined District Attorney wanting to lock up possibly corrupt New Orleans  Detective, Dennis Quaid in ‘The Big Easy’ in 1986.

Creating a body of work that began with Barry Levinson’s ‘Diner’ in 1982 and has branched out into television and a return to the Bad Girl in ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ in 2007. And ‘Operation: Endgame’ in 2010.
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4. Michael Ironside

Arrived without preamble in the role of troubled psychic, Darryl Revock in David Cronenberg’s ‘Scanners’ way back in 1981. Looking about as anonymous and harmless as a career postman. Sitting in a small audience while listening to a lecturer. Until veins begin sticking out on Revock’s neck and forehead and one lecturer’s head explode!

That, friends and neighbors, is an Entrance! The opening act of an intriguing little gem by a budding master of the odd, weird and often creepy. That pits good people with extrasensory powers against Revock and his band of equally gifted evil doers. All quite possibly the victims of Thalidomide like mutations before birth. At the hands of chemical corporate head, Patrick McGoohan. With Mr.Ironside shining throughout as his megalomania begins controlling his actions. For a final showdown with his half brother and good Scanner, Stephen Lack.

More than enough to look for Mr. Ironside in a few low budget films and a guest spot on ‘Hill Street Blues’ before coming under the attention of US audiences as recurring bad guy, Ham Tyler in NBC’s sci-fi lizard series, ‘V’ in 1984. Which set the stage for his roles as humorless Aggressor Pilot, Jester in ‘Top Gun’ in 1986. And corrupt and sweaty Colonel Paul Hackett in Walter Hill’s modern western Guy Flick, ‘Extreme Prejudice’ the next year. Staying in medium budgeted film-dom before achieving near cult status as Lt. Jean Rasczak in Paul Verhoeven’s take on Robert Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers’ in 1987. And corporate henchman, Richter in ‘Total Recall’ in 1990. Keeping his hand in both film and television before finding a lucrative niche as a voice actor for Warner Brothers animation.

3. Frances McDormand

Allow me to posit a question to the ladies. If you were part owner in a kind of sleazy Texas road house, married to and sharing your bed with an even sleazier Dan Hadaya. Would you not want to find a lover, who’s clever, yet easily tempted and manipulated into murdering Dan?

That’s where Frances McDorman finds herself in this debut role as Abby in the Coen brothers’ first film ‘Blood Simple’. A gritty, sometimes sweaty Neo~Noir from 1984, where everyone is out to kill everyone. Abby wants to off Dan’s character, Julian Marty. Who has already hired the rarely slimier M. Emmett Walsh to get incriminating photos of Abby and her lover, Ray (John Getz). Who works as a bartender at the road house.

It soon becomes a question of which is cheaper for Marty, murder or divorce? Quickly answered when Ray quits and Marty calls Walsh’s Loren Visser to seal the deal while Marty is away fishing in Corpus Christi. Half of the payment is given. With the promise to pay the other half when Marty returns.

Visser breaks in while Abby and Ray are busy. Then waits until after the festivities to steal Abby’s shiny .32 revolver. Meets Marty the following night and shoots him twice. Setting up a double or triple cross while taking his payment, but leaving his lighter at the scene of the crime. Comes the morning and Ray finds Marty slumped in a chair and prepares to bury the slowest dying man in Texas and possibly, cinema history in a remote field. Ray returns to Abby to tell her that he’s ‘cleaned up her mess’ and the fireworks begin. Interrupted by a call from Visser that sets the groundwork for a great, shadowy game of extortion and cat and mouse.

What raised my eyebrow about Ms. McDormand was her unremarkable normality as Abby. Not stunningly beautiful or crafty or even beguiling at first sight. Abby’s just a wife in a possibly abusive, violent marriage who has had enough and has found a way out. Though the sly and crafty come out once Visser starts cleaning up loose ends.

Bits of Abby showed through in her six episode role as Officer Connie Chapman in the fifth season of ‘Hill Street Blues’. Where a lot of big named, contemporary talent got started and noticed. Before taking on the quirky, comedic role of Dot opposite an even quirkier, hard luck Nicholas Cage in ‘Raising Arizona’. Honing her talents in ‘Mississippi Burning’, ‘Chattahoochee’, Darkman’ and a cameo as the Mayor’s secretary in ‘Miller’s Crossing‘. Keeping busy on stage and television before given the plum role of pregnant local cop, Marge Gunderson in ‘Fargo’ and OCD, compulsive game stat freak, Bunny in John Sayle’s ‘Lone Star’ in 1996. Holding her own in other films and embracing her inner, no nonsense uber Mom, Elaine Miller in ‘Almost Famous’ in 2000. Then returning as Billy Bob Thornton’s wife, Doris in The Man Who Wasn’t There’. And Christian Bale’s super hot, record producing mom in ‘Laurel Canyon’ the following year.

Ms. McDormand seems to be blessed with talents and beauty that have become more pronounced and elegant with time, like fine wine. Whether in dramatic or comedic roles. Her subtlety and ease makes for great entertainment!

2. Gene Hackman

Crossed my path when I was in my early teens. On an episode of NBC’s ‘I Spy’. Where this kind of dumpy, thinning haired nobody wanted to blow up a mid tiered US diplomat in Mexico by planting a Nitroglycerine bomb in a Pinata for the diplomat’s son’s birthday party. There was something about this nobody’s voice, attitude and the confident, easy way he carried himself. That had me rooting for him. Even as he was being chased down by Robert Culp and Bill Cosby through some aged ruins before the final shoot out and explosion at the story’s end. Something to make me look for his name in the final credits and remember it for future reference.

Which didn’t take long. A double feature of ‘Bonnie and Clyde‘ and ‘Bullitt’ sealed the deal. Mr. Hackman’s older brother, Buck was a slob in the classic Eli Wallach mode. The kind of guy you could dress up in an expensive suit and tie and still come up far short. Yet easily comfortable in his own and character’s skin. A trait that would show up repeatedly in smaller ensemble films that made money, though many have forgotten. ‘Riot’, ‘The Gypsy Moths’, ‘Downhill Racer’ and ‘Marooned’ in 1969. With a side trip to period pieces, ‘I Never Sang for My Father’ and The Hunting Party’ filled time before the role of NY Detective Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle planted Mr. Hackman on the map with William Friedkin’s procedural masterpiece, ‘The French Connection‘ in 1971.

Though the plump, fat roles didn’t arrive right way, his quality of cast improved with ‘Cisco Pike’ (Kris Kristofferson, Karen Black). ‘Prime Cut’ (Lee Marvin). ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (Everyone), ‘Scarecrow’ (Al Pacino). Which led to his most understated role as surveillance demi-God, Harry Caul in Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’ in 1974 (The film was robbed at that year’s Oscars!). Which sent Mr. Hackman back to ensemble gems, ‘Young Frankenstein’, a much more personal. ‘French Connection II’. Plus a standout performance as a Chandler~esque private eye in Arthur Penn’s ‘Night Moves’ and ‘Bite the Bullet’ in 1975. Then taking a crack at recruited convict turned assassin, Roy Tucker in Stanley Kramer’s ‘The Domino Principle’ in 1977.

Comedy seems to have come late to Mr. Hackman as Suerman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor before turning up opposite Nick Nolte in Robert Spottiswoode’s Nicaraguan uprising, ‘Under Fire’ and as the bank roller of the Vietnam POW rescue film, ‘Uncommon Valor’ throughout 1983.

The roles continued to arrive at a pace where Mr. Hackman would seem to fade from the spotlight. Then find a role to put him back squarely in the spotlight. In either the lead or a supporting role. Very much like Sean Connery before him. Making films much more memorable with his presence. Specifically, ‘Hoosiers’, ‘Mississippi Burning’, ‘Unforgiven’, ‘Crimson Tide’, David Mamet’s ‘Heist’ and a fine comedic turn in ‘The Royal Tennebaums’.

A consummate character actor who worked his way through the system to achieve his rightful place high in the firmament!
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1. Helen Mirren

The woman who near silently beguiled me as Bob Hoskins’ love interest, Victoria. In the east End, London docks thriller. ‘The Long Good Friday’ from 1980. Mixing poise, polish. yet subtle and unadulterated sex appeal. Ms. Mirren held the camera’s attention no matter where she was placed in a scene. Rarely showing vulnerability and creating the perfect foil for Hoskins’ Harold Shand. Lifelong thug and survivor with grand dreams of criminal enterprise along the Thames.

That performance helped me understand why and how the Brits do some genres of films so much better than we in the states. Less is often more. And that was writ large in my next encounter. In a small, little known gem titled ‘Cal’ four years later. Where Ms. Mirren taps into vast wells of vulnerability as Marcella. A recent widow whose husband, a Protestant policeman was killed by the IRA. And who slowly falls in love with her husband’s killer. Young and on the run first timer, Cal. Then turning in a better than serviceable role as Russian Science Officer and Pilot Tanya Kirbuk opposite Roy Scheider and John Lithgow in Peter Hyams’ decent ‘2001’ sequel, ‘2010’ the same year.

From there it was as Georgina Spica, in Peter Greenway’s ‘The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover’ from 1989. And onto a role that would make her and her character, DCI Jane Tennyson in Grenada Televison’s series of ‘Prime Suspect’ films. When not busy playing Queen Charlotte in ‘The Madness of King George’ in 1994. And Mrs. Wilson in Robert Altman’s ‘Gosford Park’ in 2001. Soaring into the stratosphere of title and talent by becoming Dame Helen Mirren, while taking on the role of Chris in Nigel Cole’s ‘Calendar Girls’ in 2003. Then playing Elizabeth II in Stephen Frear’s epitome of sublime pomp and formality, ‘The Queen’ in 2005. Then turn in strong performances in ‘The Debt‘ and as Prospera in ‘The Tempest’ in 2010. Before taking on a dry, prim comedic tone as retired assassin, Victoria. The most alluring woman ever behind a Browning M-2 Heavy Barreled Machine Gun, Sniper’s Rifle, or an elegantly compact Uzi sub machine gun, in ‘Red‘.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews



Well, what do you think of  these actors? Feel free to share which film(s) you first saw them in.

DVD Picks: Love Stories for Grown-Ups: Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day & Last Chance Harvey

With all the Gen Y and teenybopper flicks out there, how about a couple of poignant love stories for grown-ups?

Both of these films deal with middle-aged people finding love, even though story-wise they can’t be more different.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day (2008)

pettigrewI’ve been wanting to see this for quite some time, particularly after Lee Pace blew me away with his performance in The Fall, which leads me to IMDB him (yes, that’s a word as much as google has become one) and see what else this bloke has done.

Miss Pettigrew… tells the story of a penniless London governess in desperate need of a job who ends up in the house of a glamorous American actress, Delysia Lafosse. It’s a rather fluffy fairytale story but a delightful and entertaining one nonetheless, largely because of Frances McDormand and Amy Adams‘ performance as the title role and miss Lafosse, respectively. It’s an example of how a fairly simplistic story can be so much more with perfect casting, down to the supporting casts that include two of my favorite British character actors Mark Strong and Ciaran Hinds (best known as Julius Caesar in HBO’s Rome).

It’s fitting that fellow blogger M. Carter calls McDormand an actress that’s ‘perfect for every part.’ At first I wasn’t sure what to make of her in this, but she carries her role with aplom and a touch of whimsy, even her British accent is pretty darn good. As Lafosse’s social secretary, Guinevere Pettigrew is suddenly catapulted into London’s glitzy world. The movie shows a nice contrast between her straight-laced character and the unscrupulous Lafosse who pretty much sleeps her way to the top.

The actress lives in a fancy apartment belonging to Nick (Mark Strong), a wealthy nightclub owner, but at the same time she’s fooling around with the young son of a producer of a musical she wishes to star in. That’s not all, her third boyfriend, nightclub pianist Michael (Lee Pace) is also thrown into the mix, which forces the disconcerted Guinevere to be little creative (ok, tricky) in making sure her boss’ dalliance doesn’t cost her the musical role nor the fancy apartment. The overwhelming sequence of events happen within 24-hours (it’s like a whimsical retro episode of 24 without Jack Bauer). In that short period of time, Miss Pettigrew herself ends up finding romance in an unlikely circumstance. Her suitor Joe Bloomfield (Ciaran Hinds) is a lingerie designer from a humble beginning, whose conversation with Guinevere is one of the heartfelt and less frivolous moments of the movie.

Amy Adams is just as bubbly (if not more) here as she was in Enchanted, yet she has that rare gift that makes any character she plays so darn lovable despite her vice. She also looks as if she belongs in pre-WW II era, those teeny-tiny waisted skirts and dresses fit her perfectly. The costume design and cinematography are exquisite, see some of the images from the movie in this interior designer’s blog.

The fairy tale ending is to be expected, wrapped with a pretty red bow even an air raid warning in the brink of war can’t dampen its buoyant spirit. But hey, some movies are made for pure escapism, and on that note, this movie delivers and then some.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Last Chance Harvey (2008)

HarveyI saw this on the plane back from Bali. Although dealing a similar theme of ‘you’re never too old to find love,’ this one is no fairy tale. In fact, what’s great about Last Chance Harvey is its realness and honest-to-goodness quandary most of us can relate. Boasting two top-notch performers who are on top of their game, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson make a delightful and endearing couple.

Set in London, Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, a divorced and workaholic jingle-writer on the verge of losing his job. He is in London to attend his estranged daughter’s wedding, only to realize how distant he is from his own family that she decides to ask her stepfather to give her away instead. Heartbroken, Harvey attends the wedding anyway, only to be interrupted by an emergency work call during the ceremony, but he ends up missing his flight and gets fired.

What a double whammy for Harvey, and it all happens within a day! But you never know when life can take an unexpected turn, that’s one of the lessons this movie tells me. It’s when he’s sulking away at an airport bar that he bumps into Kate, who’s dealing with her own bad day the best way she knows how, with a glass of wine and a book. Emma is a wonderful actress whose acting style is so natural it’s as if she’s not acting at all. Her witty, comical yet poignant banter with Dustin is what makes this movie great. No need for fancy camera work, great costumes or any CGI of any kind in this movie, as watching these two act against each other is the best ‘special effect’ there is.

Well, if there is another fantastic element that nearly stole my attention away from these two, it would be the gorgeous London scenery. I’d rent this one again just to ‘take a tour’ around the beautiful city. The location is a perfect backdrop for the love journey they share, as their chance meeting leads to lunch, a walk around the city, even going back to Harvey’s daughter’s reception together. Despite her hapless love life—illustrated brilliantly at her blind date with a younger man that leaves her out of her element—Kate is still optimistic about life, which unwittingly helps Harvey gets his ‘spark’ back as well. Just like any real-life romances, things aren’t always smooth sailing. We often run into disappointment and heartbreak, whether the circumstance is intentional or planned.Yet everyone deserves a second chance, or third or fourth, and that’s what this movie is all about.

This is a slow-paced romantic film and the storyline isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but great performances and well-written dialogue keeps it fresh and far from boring. In fact, it’s a real gem of a flick that shines brilliantly amongst all the big budget & trivial selections lining up your movie rental walls.

4 out of 5 reels


Has anyone seen either one of these? If so, what did you think?