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Academy Awards 2017: Your Thoughts?

 

academy-awards-2017-2

Before I move on to my second review of the week, here’s a short blog:  What did you think of the nominations earlier this week?

  • Do you think that any films/actors/directors/etc. were slighted?
  • Were there any films/actors/directors/etc. that you were happy to see nominated?
  • What did you think of the visual method used on TV to communicate the nominations?
  • Who will you be rooting for on Oscar night?

Please leave you comments on this blog page.  I would love to hear from you!

For those who did not have the opportunity to see the list of nominees, here they are:

Picture 

  • “Arrival”
  • “Fences”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “Hell or High Water”
  • “Hidden Figures”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Lion”
  • “Manchester by the Sea”
  • “Moonlight”

Directing

  • Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival”
  • Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
  • Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
  • Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”

Actor in a leading role

  • Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
  • Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
  • Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Actor in a supporting role

  • Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
  • Jeff Bridges,“Hell or High Water”
  • Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Dev Patel, “Lion”
  • Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals”

Actress in a leading role:

  • Emma Stone, “La La Land”
  • Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
  • Ruth Negga, “Loving”
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Isabelle Huppert, “Elle

Actress in a supporting role

  • Viola Davis, “Fences”
  • Naomie Harris, “Moonlight”
  • Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
  • Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
  • Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”

Adapted Screenplay

  •  “Lion,” by Luke Davis
  •  “Arrival,” by Eric Heisserer
  •  “Moonlight,” by Barry Jenkins
  •  “Hidden Figures,” by Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder
  •  “Fences,” by August Wilson

Original Screenplay

  •  “Manchester by the Sea,” by Kenneth Lonergan
  •  “Hell or High Water,” by Taylor Sheridan
  •  “La La Land,” by Damien Chazelle
  •  “20th Century Women,” Mike Mills
  •  “The Lobster,” by Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos

Cinematography

  • Bradford Young, “Arrival”
  • Linus Sandgren,“La La Land”
  • Greig Fraser, “Lion”
  • James Laxton, “Moonlight”
  • Rodrigo Prieto, “Silence”

Documentary feature

  • “Fire at Sea”
  • “I am Not Your Negro”
  • “Life, Animated”
  • “OJ: Made in America”
  • “13th”

Documentary short:

  • “Extermis”
  • “4.1 miles”
  • “Joe’s Violins”
  • “Watani: My Homeland”
  • “The White Helmets”

Foreign language film:

  • “Toni Erdmann,” Germany
  • “The Salesman,” Iran
  • “A Man Called Ove,” Sweden
  • “Tanna,” Australia
  • “Land of Mine,” Denmark

Sound editing

  • “Arrival”
  • “Deepwater Horizon”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Sully”

Sound mixing

  • “Arrival”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story”
  • “13 Hours”

Original score

  • Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
  • Mica Levi, “Jackie”
  • Nicholas Britell, “Moonlight”
  • Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran, “Lion”
  • Thomas Newman, “Passengers”

Original song

  •  “City of Stars” (“La La Land”)
  • “How Far I’ll Go” (“Moana”)
  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (“La La Land”)
  • “The Empty Chair” (“Jim: The James Foley Story”)
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (“Trolls”)

Production design

  • “Arrival” (Patrice Vermette, Paul Hotte)
  • “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (Stuart Craig, Anna Pinnock)
  • “Hail, Caesar!” (Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh)
  • “La La Land” (David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco)
  • “Passengers” (Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena)

Visual effects:

  • “Deepwater Horizon”
  • “Doctor Strange”
  • “The Jungle Book”
  • “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Makeup and hairstyling

  • “A Man Called Ove”
  • “Star Trek Beyond”
  • “Suicide Squad”

Costume design

  • Mary Zophres, “La La Land”
  • Madeline Fontaine, “Jackie”
  • Consolata Boyle, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
  • Colleen Atwood, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
  • Joanna Johnston, “Allied”

Film Editing

  • “Arrival”
  • “Hell or High Water”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Moonlight”

Live-action short

  • “Ennemis intérieurs,” Selim Azzazi
  • “La femme et le TGV,” Timo von Gunten
  • “Silent Nights,” Aske Bang, Kim Magnusson
  • “Sing,” Kristof Deák, Anna Udvardy
  • “Timecode,” Juanjo Gimenez

Animated Short Film

  • “Blind Vaysha”
  • “Borrowed Time”
  • “Pear Cider and Cigarettes”
  • “Pearl”
  • “Piper”

Animated Feature Film

  • “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • “Moana”
  • “My Life as a Zucchini”
  • “The Red Turtle”
  • “Zootopia”

 

 

 

“Denial” (2016)

denial

Holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her attorneys, preparing for court room battle.

Those of us who have not lived under a rock all our lives are pretty familiar with certain truths; i.e., the world is round, astronauts actually landed on the moon, and atrocities like the Holocaust really happened.  But here’s a question:  What if you had to go into a court of law and prove that these things are true?  What facts would you use to make your case?

That is the challenge facing Holocaust expert Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) in the docudrama Denial, based on a British libel case from 2000.  In the film, plaintiff David Irving (Timothy Spall), alleges that Ms. Lipstadt has characterized his writings and public statements as Holocaust denial in her book, Denying the Holocaust.  He sues both Lipstadt and her UK publisher, Penguin.

Lipstadt soon discovers the difficulty of her situation.  In British civil court, the defendant is the one who must prove their position, not the plaintiff.  Therefore, Lipstadt’s legal team must provide evidence that the Holocaust really happened, in order to defend her written statements in Denying the Holocaust that Irving systematically denied it.

Most legal dramas center on action in the courtroom.  Denial focuses on the fireworks behind the scenes; specifically Lipstadt’s disagreement with the way her lawyers wish to litigate the trial.  For example, she is horrified when her team tells her that neither she nor living Holocaust survivors will be allowed to testify.  Instead, the team will thoroughly review Irving’s diaries regarding involvement with rightwing groups, and they will search out forensic evidence related to the central point of the trial:  The massacre of Jews at Auschwitz.  The question is whether the lawyers’ measured plan of attack in the courtroom will work.  Is it a mistake to leave Lipstadt and the survivors out of the proceedings?

Weitz is pretty good as Lipstadt, but the real standouts are Timothy Spall as Irving and Tom Wilkinson as defense advocate Richard Rampton.  These two actors provide the most compelling in-court dramatics of the entire film.

It is most unfortunate that Denial was not in wide release, at least in my area.  It should be seen by everyone, especially young people.  The film teaches us a couple of lessons:   1) We must never forget the Holocaust.  2) In an age where fake news and “alternative facts” seem to run rampant all over the media, it is extremely important to carefully verify facts and information before drawing conclusions about anything, especially history.

*****

You can download Denial from amazon.com using the following link:

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You can also find Deborah Lipstadt’s book about the libel suit,  History on Trial:  My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,”  at amazon.com.

Pluses:  Excellent performances from Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson; moving scene concerning Auschwitz location.

Minus:  Sometimes lags in dramatic propulsion.

Cast:  Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Lack Lowden, Caren Pistorious, Alex Jennings.

Director:  Mick Jackson

Rating:  PG-13

In color.

Length:  110

In Celebration of MLK: Floyd Norman, Animator

 

floyd-norman

Floyd Norman, doing what he loves best

The documentary film Floyd Norman:  An Animated Life celebrates a man who has followed his bliss since childhood.  Norman, 81, is known in the entertainment world as the first African-American animator hired by Disney Studios.  His position as a role model for other African-American cartoonists is emphasized in this movie.  However, what really shines through is Norman’s joyous, upbeat attitude in pursuing his passion:  Cartooning.

One colleague has described Norman as “the Forrest Gump of animation.”  His life certainly demonstrates the advantages of being in the right place at the right time.  During Norman’s childhood, his family moved from Mississippi to Santa Barbara.  Norman thus had the opportunity to learn about California’s animation community early on.

As a high-schooler in art school, Norman was “discovered” when a representative from Archie Comics asked for an artist who could do “inking” (fill in borders, draw lettering).  Norman was recommended for the job, and his cartooning career began.

In the 1950’s, Lloyd applied for work at Disney Studios despite being told that Disney would never employ an African-American cartoonist.  Nevertheless, he was hired and started off by doing “in-between work”; in other words, filling in additional movements for animated characters.  Norman eventually went on to provide animation for several feature-length films such as Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmations, The Sword in the Stone, and Mary Poppins.

Norman’s career at Disney takes up a significant amount of this film.  However, the documentary also covers his time at Vignette Films, a company that Norman created in the 1960’s with three African-American colleagues.  Vignette Films produced movies about African-American history.  In addition, Norman and his co-workers went to Watts during the 1965 riots and filmed several incidents which ended up on NBC.

Throughout the documentary, Norman demonstrates an upbeat, glass half-full attitude towards life.  For example, when he was drafted into the military during the Korean War, Norman managed to keep his sanity by drawing cartoons and taking photographs during the conflict.  Although the experience was traumatic for him (as it is for any combat soldier), his feelings about returning to civilian life were quite positive:  “I came back to Disney, and I realized I had the best job in the world….I get a chance to draw cartoons all day…and nobody’s trying to kill me!”

Floyd Norman:  An Animated Life is as much about the animation business as it is about the title subject.  Norman’s colleagues are interviewed throughout the film, and one gets the impression of senior citizens who are in reality mischievous 12-year old kids.  Maybe this is why Norman and so many in his profession live such long lives…. They never grew up!

You can access Floyd Norman:  An Animated Life, by clicking onto the following link:

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*****

Pluses:  Floyd Norman’s sunny personality shines through this film; fascinating information about the politics of working at Disney and other animation companies; delightful animated sequences of Norman, provided by up-and-coming cartoonists.

Minus:  Sections about Norman’s private life are not as interesting as those concerning his professional life.

Cast:  Floyd Norman, Leonard Maltin, Scarlett Johannson, Richard Sherman, Whoopee Goldberg, Leo Sullivan, Suzanne Bothke, Mike Kasaieh, Adrienne Brown-Norman, Sergio Aragones.

Director:  Erik Sharkey and Michael Fiore

Rating:  Not Rated

In color, with animated black-and-white sequences

Length:  One hour, 34 minutes

 

 

In Theaters Now: “Lion” (2016)

lion

Little Saroo, at the beginning of a very long journey

Lion, directed by Garth Davis, tells the amazing true story of Saroo Brierly, who as a five year old gets lost on a train that takes him thousands of miles away from his family.  Saroo ends up in Calcutta, where he must fend for himself until he is taken in by an orphanage.  He eventually gets adopted by an Australian couple.  Although happy in his new home, he cannot shake the memories of his family in India.  As an adult, Saroo sets out to find them, armed only with vague, decades-old recollections of his hometown and Internet technology (Google Earth).

The first half of this film, which concerns Saroo’s life as a child in India, is gripping.  All incidents which occur in this section are shown from little Saroo’s (Sunny Pawar) point of view to devastating effect.  Your heart breaks, for example, watching him wildly pounding the doors and walls of the moving train, screaming for help as he is whisked away from everything he knows and remembers.

The second half of the movie is not nearly as engaging, although actor Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) is intense in portraying the adult Saroo.  He is supported by Rooney Mara, who plays a girlfriend; and David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, who play his adoptive parents.

Warning:  I would suggest that you bring a couple of very porous handkerchiefs to this show.  You’ll need them.

*******

Lion is based on the non-fiction book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly with Larry Buttrose.  You can purchase a copy at amazon.com by using the following link:

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Also, if you want to see a video of the real story, type into YouTube “60 Minutes Saroo Brierly.”  Do this only if you don’t mind spoilers, because you will discover how things really worked out for Saroo and his two families.

Pluses:  Good performances from Sunny Pawar (little Saroo), Dev Patel (adult Saroo).  Powerful first half.

Minus:  Last half drags a little.  Unnecessary romantic subplot.

Cast:  Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney .Mara, David Wenham, Abhishek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Sunny Pawar

Director:  Garth Davis

Rating:  PG-13

In color.

Length:  118 minutes

 

New Beginnings: “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974)

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Ellen Burstyn in her Academy-Award winning role as Alice Hyatt, a widow forced to remake her life as a waitress in Arizona

It strikes me that I haven’t written any articles about 1970’s movies.  With this in mind, I’ve perused that decade for films that focus on a theme we’re all familiar with at the beginning of January:  New beginnings.  I settled on Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn) is a hopeless romantic.  Since childhood, she has dreamed of getting into show business as a singer.  But she was somehow sidelined by life.  At age 35, she is married to a boorish, indifferent husband and has an irritatingly precocious 11-year son.

Life hands Alice a second chance when her husband is killed in a traffic accident.  Alice and her boy leave their home in New Mexico, and Alice finds work as a saloon singer at a piano bar.  However, an unfortunate interlude with an abusive boyfriend (Harvey Keitel) forces both mother and son to flee to Tucson…and Alice ends up as a waitress at the local diner.

This isn’t exactly the endpoint that Alice dreamed of.  The work is hectic.  The customers are rough.  And an abrasive coworker named Flo (Diane Lane) doesn’t exactly endear herself to Alice when she announces:  “Everybody, listen, we got us a new girl.  It’s her first day on the job….And everybody can see that she has big tits on her.  But hands off–let the girl do her work.  If there’s going to be any grab-assing around here, grab mine!”

Nevertheless, it looks as if Alice may have another chance at romance.  A local rancher (Kris Kristofferson) who frequents the diner is looking at her with cow eyes.  Will things work out this time, or is Alice once again searching for love in all the wrong places?

*******

In researching Alice, I read reviews that came out when the film was released in 1974.  I found it interesting that many critics of the time felt wrote that Alice Hyatt’s odyssey was an expression of feminism and women’s lib.  From a 2017 viewpoint, I don’t find this to be true.  Yes, Alice leaves her former married self to go out on her own.  Yes, she achieves a certain amount of self-understanding that she didn’t have at the beginning of this story.  However, the fact is that she dumps the ashes of one relationship, only to run into the arms of another lover at movie’s end.  Although the boyfriend is certainly an improvement over the dead husband, he has some of the same domineering qualities.  Not so sure that this meets anyone’s definition of women’s lib.

One thing that we can all agree on is that in addition to great supporting performances from Harvey Keitel, Diane Ladd, the little boy who plays the maddening but lovable son, and so many others, Ellen Burstyn really makes this film.  Her Alice is vulnerable, adventurous, tough, perseverant, and frustratingly adolescent, all at once.  There are times that we want to grab her and shake her, and others where all we can do is cheer her on.  The character is truly multi-dimensional, and it takes a fine actress to pull all of this off.

********

Most of us know director Martin Scorsese for his dark crime films like Mean Streets (1973), Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995) and The Departed (2006).  Although he has more than once ventured outside of this genre, his films are typically dark, serious, and splattered with more than a little blood.  Alice is probably Scorsese’s sunniest film to date.  Even so, there are some violent moments, like the scene where Keitel’s Jekyll-and-Hyde character assaults and scares the living daylights out of Alice.

A television spin-off of Alice, starring Linda Lavin, ran from 1975 to 1984.

You can purchase a DVD copy of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by clicking onto the following link:

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You can download Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore through Amazon Instant by clicking onto the following link:

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Pluses:  Great performances by Ellen Burstyn, Diane Ladd, Alfred Lutter (Alice’s son), and Harvey Keitel.  Gritty, realistic atmosphere.  Evocative music that supports film’s plot line (Selections include All The Way to Memphis by Mott the Hoople, You’ll Never Know sung by Alice Faye, Daniel sung by Elton John).

Minus:  Kris Kristofferson not as memorable as the other players; a minor quibble.

Cast:  Ellen Burstyn, Alfred Lutter, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Bush, Diane Ladd, Valerie Curtin, Lelia Goldoni, Vic Tayback, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Murray Moston.

Director:  Martin Scorsese

Rating:  PG

In color.

Length:  112 minutes

Sources:

“Martin Scorsese.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  1 January 2017.  Web.  2 January 2017

 

 

 

 

 

“Unsinkable to the End”: L.A. Times Film Critic Kenneth Turan Praises Debbie Reynolds

 

debbie-reynolds

Wow, what a week.  First Carrie Fisher, and then her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

Instead of writing my own article regarding this loss to Hollywood, I would direct my readers to a lovely article about Debbie Reynolds by the renowned L.A. Times film critic, Kenneth Turan.

The article can be found via Internet by using the following key words:  Unsinkable to the end turan.

 

 

 

 

 

Movies and the Jews: “Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet” (1940)

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Edward G. Robinson as Nobel-prize winner Dr. Paul Ehrlich

The opening scene takes place in a medical consulting room in 19th century Germany.  A young clinician has given his patient some bad news.  Although nothing is said directly, both men know that the situation is grim.  Immediately after the patient walks into the lobby, a commotion ensues.  The man has committed suicide.

Dr. Paul Ehrlich, the clinician,  just told his patient that he has syphilis.  There is no cure.  The man could expect to develop horrible end-stage symptoms like blindness, paralysis, or dementia before the disease ultimately took his life.  In addition, a diagnosis of syphilis at this time in history meant excommunication from society, which is yet another death.  It’s no wonder that the patient chose to end his life right then and there.

In Warner Brother’s excellent bio pic, Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, we see Nobel-prize winner Ehrlich (played by an unrecognizable Edward G. Robinson) spend the remainder of his life researching various methods of chemotherapy in order to cure disease, ultimately beating syphilis.  He describes each treatment as a “magic bullet” specifically modified to the nature of the disease to be treated.  Ehrlich accomplishes much on his way to the Nobel Prize:  A ground-breaking method for staining bacterial samples in order to facilitate identification and diagnosis; contribution to the development of an effective diphtheria serum; and development of an arsenic-based chemotherapy to treat syphilis.

Dr. Ehrlich’s road is not an easy one.  His research is dependent on the support of countless public and private donors.  But we’re talking Germany, Dr. Ehrlich is a Jew, and well….some are hesitant about donating to someone of the “Hebraic religion.”  In addition, Ehrlich has a most disconcerting habit of hiring the best in the medical field, regardless of race or creed.  At one point, some potential donors discover that he has a Japanese research scientist working in the laboratory….horrors!

paul_ehrlich_and_sahachiro_hata

The real Dr. Ehrlich with his colleague, Dr. Sahachiro Hata

Things really come to a head when Dr. Ehrlich visits a rich dowager (played by Maria Ouspenskaya) in order to solicit funds for his research.  A clip from the film shows people’s reactions when they find out what he is currently working on:

Fortunately, the dowager is far more open-minded than her guests, and she gives Dr. Ehrlich a generous amount of money.  This enables the doctor to successfully complete his experiments regarding syphilis chemotherapy.

*****

Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) was a German-Jewish physician and scientist responsible for many innovations in the areas of hematology, immunology, and antimicrobial chemotherapy.  He is probably best known for his development of arsphenamine (Salvarsan), which was the first effective treatment for syphilis.  For his contributions to medicine, Ehrlich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1908.

At the time that Magic Bullet was released, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party were in the process of destroying records of Ehrlich’s work; according to Hitler, “A scientific discovery by a Jew is worthless.”  All the more reason to see this film in remembrance of a brilliant Jewish scientist’s contribution to medicine and humanity.

You can purchase DVD’s of Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet on amazon.com by clicking the following link:

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*****

Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973) is probably best known for his role as Enrico Bandello, the title character of 1931’s Little Caesar.  Robinson’s spectacular performance as the two-bit hoodlum who rises to the top of organized crime led to a series of gangster roles, most famously in 1948’s Key Largo.

It may be surprising to some that this “Italian hood” was born into a Romanian-Jewish family as Emanuel Goldenberg.  When “Manny” Goldenberg was 10 years old, his family emigrated from Romania to the U.S.A (New York City).  Goldenberg decided at a young age to become an actor.  He was known in New York circles as Edward G. Robinson, a versatile performer who could play almost any ethnic part (Robinson spoke several languages, including Yiddish, Hebrew, Romanian, English and German).   One of Robinson’s favorite sayings was, “I’m not so much on face value (he was not a handsome man), but when it comes to stage value, I’ll deliver for you.”

Robinson was eventually hired by Warner Brothers, and went on to portray one of Hollywood’s most famous criminals.  The endless parade of “hood” parts that followed made Robinson yearn for a different kind of role.  He jumped at the chance to play Dr. Ehrlich when the opportunity presented itself in 1940, and he did a magnificent job.

For more information on the life of Edward G. Robinson, read Alan L. Gansberg’s excellent biography, Little Caesar:  A Biography of Edward G. Robinson.  You can purchase a hard copy or Kindle version of the book at amazon.com by clicking on the following link:

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*****

Pluses:  Energetic performance by Edward G. Robinson; excellent plain-language explanations of the scientific theories behind Dr. Ehrlich’s research.

Minus:  Misogynistic portrayal of Dr. Ehrlich’s wife (Ruth Gordon).  She doesn’t even get to be with him when he dies.  Instead, Dr. Ehrlich asks her to step into the parlor and play the piano!

Cast:  Edward G. Robinson, Ruth Gordon, Otto Kruger, Donald Crisp

Director:  William Dieterle

Rating:  Unrated

Black and white

Length:  103 minutes

Sources:

“Paul Ehrlich.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  31  July 2016.  Web.  2 December 2016

“Edward G. Robinson.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   28 December 2016.  Web.  28 December 2016.

Gansberg, Alan L.  Little Caesar:  A Biography of Edward G. Robinson.  The Scarecrow Press, Inc. (2004)

 

 

 

 

 

Love Actually (2003)

 

love-actually

Actor Hugh Grant, once again required to do a silly dance in a movie

Poor Hugh Grant.  For several years, film makers everywhere have required this dapper heart throb to do the goofiest things in his rom/coms.  This year, he performed a stiffly executed Charleston in Florence Foster Jenkins.  In the movie I’m about to review, 2003’s Love Actually, he executes a Terpsichorean faux paux to the tune of the Pointer Sister’s “Jump.”   Don’t even ask about his vocal rendition of “Good King Wenceslaus” later on.

Nevertheless, it’s all part of the fun in this fluffy, cheerful romp where Londoners look for love during the holidays.  British director Richard Curtis, who wrote the screenplay for 1994’s hilarious Four Weddings and a Funeral, attempts in this film to conduct at least ten separate tales about romantic relationships within a span of 136 minutes.  Assisting him are the following celebrated thespians:  Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”), and Bill Nighy.

Plotline examples:  1) A widower (Liam Neeson) coaches his step-son through the heartache of puppy love; 2) The newly-elected PM (Hugh Grant) inconveniently falls for one of his staff; 3)  The PM’s sister (Emma Thompson), who thought she was happily married, slowly realizes that her husband (Alan Rickman) may be having an affair; 4) A struggling writer (Colin Firth) falls for his Portuguese housekeeper; 5) Rickman’s employee (Laura Linney) pursues a relationship with a handsome coworker, but is thwarted by the neediness of her mentally ill brother.

Mr. Curtis’ attempt to juggle all of these balls at the same time is quite ambitious.  However, I’m afraid the sum of the parts does not result in an integrated whole.  Some of the tales are funny, some poignant; but others are easily dispensible.  Regardless:  it’s lots of fun to watch all of these wonderful actors do their thing, especially Bill Nighy as an aging, Keith Richards-like rock star who is looking for one last hit.

So, in between decorating the tree and shopping for presents, you might want sit to down with some tea and scones, and watch this movie.  In addition to everything else, you will enjoy the score, which features tracks performed by Wyclef Jean, the Bay City Rollers, Maroon 5, Joni Mitchell, the Pointer Sisters, Dido, Norah Jones, Otis Redding, and many more.

Love Actually can be purchase in DVD form from amazon.com through the following link:

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Love Actually can also be downloaded from amazon.com instant video through the following link:

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*****

Plus:  Good performances by seasoned actors, especially Nighy; enjoyable soundtrack

Minus:  Some of the plotlines are rather silly and unnecessary

Cast:  Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson

Director:  Richard Curtis

Rating:  R for sexual scenes, nudity, language.  Definitely not for little kids!

In color

Length:  136 minutes

 

 

 

Movies and the Jews: Kirk Douglas’ 100th

kirk-douglas

On December 9th, it was reported that a Mr. Issur Danielovitch celebrated his 100th birthday.  This probably would not have seemed like big news to most people, except for the fact that many of us know Mr. Danielovitch as Kirk Douglas.

Douglas, who starred in more than 90 movies and is considered one of the last of the Golden Age Hollywood actors, was born on December 9, 1916 to Jewish immigrants from Belarus.  Douglas’ childhood was a difficult one.  In his first autobiography The Ragman’s Son, he states the following:

“My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes….Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder.  And I was the ragman’s son.”

To keep from starving, the young Douglas had to work odd jobs to contribute money to his family.  He was determined to escape from the life of poverty he had been born into, and eventually worked his way into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City via scholarship.  While there, he met fellow student and future movie star Lauren Bacall.  This meeting was fortuitous, as Bacall later helped Douglas to land his first major movie role alongside Barbara Stanwyck in 1946’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.  From that point on, Douglas’ good looks, star quality, and ambition helped him in becoming a real power player in Hollywood.

There are so many roles for which Douglas is well-known, among them  Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956), Ned Land in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Colonel Dax in Paths of Glory (1957), and of course the title character in Spartacus (1960).  However, Douglas’ favorite role was that of a modern day cowboy in a relatively little-known film, 1962’s Lonely Are The Brave.

The opening scene of Lonely is pretty typical of a western:  We see a panoramic view of a desert with cactus, a saddle, a campfire, a sleeping cowboy….and suddenly, we hear the sound of jet planes overhead.  This is the world of Jack Burns, an independent, roving cowhand who feels more and more stifled by fences, freeways, and other aspects of modern civilization.  He eventually runs afoul of the law, and is chased through the wilderness by sheriff’s deputies intent on catching him before he can ride across the border to Mexico.  In one surrealistic sequence, we witness Burns astride his palomino, every inch the old-time cowboy, as he’s being pursued by helicopters.

This is one of Douglas’ best films, but unfortunately the story does not end happily.  Thus, I’m not sure that I can recommend it for holiday viewing.  You might instead enjoy one of Douglas few comedic performances as a money-strapped English professor in A Letter to Three Wives (1949).  The plot of this witty film concerns a note from the town floozy to three wives, informing them that she’s running off with one of their husbands.  The three women spend the rest of the movie wondering who’ll be going home to an empty house.  Despite the ominous premise, we laugh a lot on the way to a pleasant enough ending.  Meanwhile, we get to see some fine performances from Douglas, Ann Southern, Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Paul Douglas, and Jeffrey Lynn.

You can purchase Lonely are the Brave on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

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You can purchase A Letter to Three Wives on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DOB3MN4/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00DOB3MN4&linkId=1987542efd5e51fac8128e355cbe809e

You can purchase Douglas’ autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0671637177/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0671637177&linkId=38938cefac2b086f96076ba0e4b62f97

Sources:

“Kirk Douglas”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  10 November 2016.  Web.  12 December 2016.

Douglas, Kirk.  The Ragman’s Son.  Simon and Schuster (1988)

 

 

L.A. Times Article about Actor Harold Russell

harold-russell

To those of you who subscribe to the L.A. Times:  Please look in the “Calendar” section for a lovely article by writer/producer/actor Mark Montgomery about his friend, actor Harold Russell.  Some of you may remember an article I posted last month about the 1946 Academy Award winning Best Days of Our Lives.  This film is about the challenges that three WWII veterans encounter in re-adjusting to civilian life.

Russell, who plays amputee Homer Parrish in that film, was in fact a veteran who lost both hands in a training accident.  For his performance, Russell won the Academy’s Best Supporting Actor award.  And no, it wasn’t a sympathy vote.  He was really that good.

You can reach the L.A. Times website at latimes.com.