Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Last Chance Harvey (2008, Joel Hopkins)
Q&A with Dustin Hoffman

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Rating: 82/100

I can't get over the fact that at 71 1/2 and with over 40 movies under his belt, Dustin Hoffman repeatedly gave the impression at the Q&A of someone who grappled with a struggling career. "Why don't they writes roles for people my age?" he vented. He worked for ten years as a waiter before his career took off and he said, "The feeling of being a failure never quite leaves you." I found this interesting, especially since I consider him one of the great actors of our time.

He said that he enjoyed working with Emma Thompson on Stranger Than Fiction. They had two scenes together, one of which was cut severely. It was Emma who had the connection to writer/director Joel Hopkins and he developed this script with both actors in mind.

On to the review of the film:

Finally a movie that doesn't pull any punches and is honest as well as enjoyable. The setting of London is glorious and the moments of humor in this drama are well placed. Since the movie was hand-crafted for the two leads, it felt natural. Even before knowing that, I thought it wouldn't have worked half as well without these two actors (Hoffman/Thompson).

The movie is about a man who goes to London for his daughter's wedding. He hasn't been close to her for the last several years. In a moving scene with Emma Thompson, he explains how it happened so gradually that one day he just wasn't part of her life. To make matters worse, he is an embarrassment to the family and finds himself one prickly situation after another. He just can't win.

It progresses and ends with a satisfying amount of closure. With all the disappointing films today and so much advertising being spent on films without a decent script, it's a shame that this one will most likely go unnoticed by a lot of people. If you get the chance and have any interest, I highly recommend it.

In closing, Dustin talked about the directors he wanted to work with: P.T. Anderson and Scorsese. He admired Brando's working relationship with Kazan. He also liked Martin McDonagh's film In Bruges, which leads us to the actors he said he admired. He was on a roll: Ralph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz, "Seymour" Hoffman, Sean Penn, Ginger Rogers in 5th Ave Girl, Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, Eddie Murphy in Coming to America, Russell Crowe in Body of Lies, the casts of The Lives of Others, 4 mos., 3 wks, and 2 days, and both sisters in Rachel Getting Married. Whew!

Edited by: Sandy
Thank you!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Revolutionary Road (2008, Sam Mendes)

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Rating: 2.5/4 star, 61/100

Overall, disappointing. This movie likes to take jumps in time. The problem is that it wants to be Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at times. Kate & Leo seemed to be overacting, both of them trying for that impossible Oscar. It also makes Kate & Leo's relationship to be turbulent. One moment you think they're going to strangle each other or at least be perpetually unhappy, and the next moment they are over the moon to the point where you become overly hopeful for them.

Then of course, things take yet another crazy turn at the end. You're left wondering how you got there. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the romanticism of Titanic, even though I was never the world's biggest fan of the movie.

While the writing was solid, and while the screenwriter admitted to making things a tad happier in the movie than the book (SPOILER: In the book, Leo's character gives the kids away to relatives; in the movie he is always close to them.), he still joked about the movie's day after Christmas release: "On Christmas you open up all your presents, only to go to the theater the next day to find out what your life is really like."

In closing, I'd like to confirm that this movie is not so stand-out, in accordance with my rating. Some people have actually enjoyed the acting, even though it wasn't as subtle as I would like. The story isn't one that can be adored unless you like having your expectations blown in a bad way. I would recommend seeing it if you really must quench your curiosity. After all, Kate & Leo together again after 11 years is something a lot of people won't be able to stay away from.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seven Pounds (2008, Gabriele Muccino)


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Can "Good Deeds" Make Up for Past Mistakes?
Rating: 3/4 stars, 73/100, 7/10

(Minor spoilers in the review)

Calling to mind 21 Grams and I Am Legend (and being directed by The Pursuit of Happyness' Gabriele Muccino), this movie is pretty good, but never does it break as much ground as Memento or Pulp Fiction. Overall, pretty good performances by Woody Harrelson, Will Smith, and Rosario Dawson.

Even though Rosario Dawson is very good in this and everything she's done post Josie and the Pussycats, there is a personal gripe I have with the scene where she proclaims Charles Aznavour's "Formidable" is her favorite song. She knows the English words, but hums during French part of the song. That famous song is actually one of my favorites. However, I was thrown out of the movie for a second when the character didn't know the words to her own favorite song. I think this is primarily director Gabriele Muccino's fault. He should have spent the extra time with Rosario in order to have her be able to sing two whole lines.

There are a few "how is that possible" moments in the script which could easily be justified by the screenwriter, such as how did he meet the people he's trying to help or regarding the complication due to the jellyfish infecting its victim.

I would say that the movie is entertaining and that if you can ignore some of these perceived flaws, it would be a great movie to see for the holiday season. The ending is sort of bittersweet and the film itself is not for those who can't handle a non-linear story at all. It's the kind of movie you have to just go with until things start making sense.

Friday, December 12, 2008

20 Favourite Actresses

Meme from: House of Mirth and Movies
Also see my: 20 Favourite Actors

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01. Bette Davis (Key role: Dangerous)

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02. Isabelle Huppert (Key role: La Cérémonie)

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03. Sandrine Bonnaire (Key role: Jeanne la Pucelle II - Les prisons)

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04. Faye Dunaway (Key role: Bonnie and Clyde)

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05. Isabelle Adjani (Key role: Camille Claudel)

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06. Gloria Swanson (Key role: Sunset Blvd.)

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07. Janet Gaynor (Key role: A Star Is Born)

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08. Audrey Hepburn (Key role: Roman Holiday)

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09. Naomi Watts (Key role: Mulholland Dr.)

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10. Rita Hayworth (Key role: Gilda)

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11. Irène Jacob (Key role: La Double vie de Véronique)

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12. Jean Seberg (Key role: À bout de souffle)

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13. Monica Vitti (Key role: Il Deserto rosso)

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14. Margit Carstensen (Key role: Angst vor der Angst)

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15. Ludivine Sagnier (Key role: La Fille coupée en deux)

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16. Mia Farrow (Key role: Crimes and Misdemeanors)

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17. Brigitte Bardot (Key role: Viva Maria!)

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18. Natalie Wood (Key role: Inside Daisy Clover)

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19. Barbara Stanwyck (Key role: The Lady Eve)

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20. Catherine Deneuve (Key role: Les Demoiselles de Rochefort)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Working Girls (1931, Dorothy Arzner)

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I've been reading Directed by Dorothy Arzner and have been familiar with nearly all of the Dorothy Arzner films Judith Mayne talks about due to the wonderfulness that is TCM.

However, there was one film that I hadn't seen: Working Girls. In the book, Mayne stated that this was never released to the general public and then described the movie in furious detail. After all, she was able to see it through UCLA's archives.

So I got the idea to see what the process was for checking out UCLA's archives and emailed them Wednesday. I happened to email them right before the end of the semester. Someone wrote back requesting that I send them my academic information and reasons for wanting to view the film. Yikes! I wrote back that I was interested in Arzner's films for their "historical value", in addition to researching films directed by women in general. I hoped that was sufficient and that I didn't have to be working on a thesis!

When I got there Thursday afternoon, they had everything ready for me in their viewing room in the Powell Library and all I had to do was give them my ID.

Then on glorious VHS, I saw the very amusing film! There may be spoilers from this point.

Working Girls is a very dated film, sure, and probably amusing for that very fact. It's the story of two sisters: Mae & June who come to New York for their big break. Mae gets knocked up basically, and June marries the man that Mae jilts.

It was a very interesting experience. Deemed too racy at the time, it is extremely tame by today's standards. In Mayne's book it seemed that the happenings in the movie were overt. However, even by pre-code standards, nothing was spoken of directly. And when it was, Mae and June were mostly naive about what was going on.

June applies for a job working as a secretary for a professor, but she isn't educated enough. Mae, who has two more years of high school on June gets the job, but she is no Albert Einstein either. Mae pleads with the prof. for the job, and he gets the idea that she is offering sexual favors or at least is coming on to him.

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Above is June (Judith Wood) who meets Mr. Michael Kelly, a saxophone player who makes $90 a week (June & Mae think they'd hit it big making $25 a week). Even though her younger sister Mae (Dorothy Hall) finds a "Harvard Man" named Boyd Wheeler (played by Charles "Buddy" Rogers), June likes Kelly for the tangible things he can give her. Kelly gives her some candy, then is chided into giving her orchids, perfume, and an umbrella, all on the first date.

The professor proposes to "little April" when Mae corrects him on her name. "Oh, I bet your pardon, Miss Springtime," he says. Yeah, for a professor, he is a little ditzy. Mae reveals to the prof. that she has a love interest and is promptly fired.

June is worried about Mae's relationship with Boyd Wheeler and tells Mae "keep your shirt on" throughout the film. June however refuses to break a date with Michael Kelly when Mae has to meet Boyd for dinner at his place. When Mae gets there, she finds that the "friend" Boyd Wheeler was going to have along with her has canceled. Mae has the idea that most girls did at the time: that if she is alone with Boyd in his apartment, she will be corrupted. She says , "Something tells me if I take this coat off, I'm not of strong character."

A little dramatic perhaps, but she does indeed succumb to Wheeler's wiles and becomes pregnant.

Wheeler of course has a fiancée. To make a long story short, Wheeler dumps the fiancée, but only after Mae has agreed to marry the professor because of her situation.

When June finds this out, she pleads with Michael Kelly to come along with her and Mae to Wheeler's: "Have you got a gun? We're going to a wedding!"

Things end happily, Hollywood style, with June and Michael Kelly having to tell the professor at a Chinese restaurant that Mae is going to have to break her engagement to him.

The professor asks if June herself is engaged to Kelly, the man she came with. "Engaged. To that one? I should say not."

Kelly removes himself from the table while waiting for their food to arrive. June asks the prof. if he knew that Mae was pregnant with Wheeler's child when he agreed to marry her, in so many words. He says yes. June is overcome by this chivalrous man who would have fought to protect her sister's honor. She asks him if he'll marry her. The prof. is overtaken by her boldness, yet agrees. As Michael Kelly returns, June tells the prof. she likes "lots of petting", even though she previously told Kelly to keep his hands off despite the numerous gifts she demanded of him.

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Though these characters are indeed likeable, the most unfortunate thing is that Judith Wood and Dorothy Hall never really made names for themselves as actresses. Maybe it's because Dorothy Hall has charmingly painful lines like "Aww, you don't need to speak so sarcasmly." In addition, they didn't have the gumption or beauty of Arzner's other leading ladies: Katharine Hepburn, Clara Bow, or Rosalind Russell to name a few. There is no way to tell if Wood and Hall would have become stars had the film actually been released, but as it was, fame was not in the cards for these two ladies.

As for Arzner's direction, it is impeccable. She does what she can with Wood and Hall's talents, and the film glides by delightfully. In the scene where Mae meets Boyd Wheeler in a shoe store, he spies on her through the shoe fitting stool's mirror. Arzner's subsequent shots are amazing too, but that one is my favorite.

One has to notice the very crafty lesbian undertones in this film. The all-girl boarding house Mae and June live in is very strict. To visit "family" overnight, they must sign out to avoid being corrupted by young men. Of course, one of the girls who is signing out states, "You oughta meet a man like my aunt."

There is also a butch girl named Lou Hollings (played by Frances Moffett) that lives amongst them as well as a dim-witted one that starts following Mae and June at first, as if she has a crush on them.

The girls are also ordered to keep the windows closed so they won't hear the uncouth music coming from the nightclub right across from their building. Of course, one night they open the windows and the girls begin to dance with each other. How's that scene for a lesbian director in the early nineteen thirties? Of course since the film was sadly never released to the public, Arzner didn't quite get away with it.

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(Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell in Night Nurse)

What is left behind, however, is a pretty decent film despite its lack of any huge stars unless you count Frances Dee who has a very minor role. Based on the play "Blind Mice" by Vera Caspary and Winifred Lenihan), Zoe Atkins' script was good, but unfortunately not appropriate for the times. What is amazing is what films of that same pre-code era got away with: Illicit (racy dialog) and Night Nurse (girls in their underclothes) both with Barbara Stanwyck. Working Girls also features a scene with one of the girls in just a bra and lacy panties, which was probably the only thing that should have been cut in order for the film to be shown in theaters across the USA (and maybe the scene with the two girls dancing). All in all it was a great experience. This movie deserves to be seen by more people. Hopefully, UCLA and TCM or some DVD company will work something out in the future. There is definitely an interest in pre-code films, in addition to Dorothy Arzner's works and feminist cinema.

Special thanks to: UCLA Library

Addendum: Please also note some of the quotes from this movie that I added to IMDB.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

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When I saw the movie Dear Zachary, I was not prepared for such an emotionally challenging and relevant documentary. It is about a man who was murdered and the person who murdered him was let out on bail for several years until the opportunity came for her to kill again.

It was made by the victim's best friend, who started the documentary in order to show his friend's legacy to his son.

At the end of the documentary, there is a call to action to support bail reform. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even if you want to turn it on for a few minutes just to check it out. You will not be disappointed.

It aired on MSNBC yesterday and will show again this Sunday. Don't miss it! Details below:
IMDB TV Schedule:
Sun. Dec. 144:00 PMMSNBC