Archives for September 2013

Jennifer Lawrence Cast As Cathy in “East of Eden”

As reported by MTV.com and various other media outlets, Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence has been cast as the young Cathy in an adaptation of the John Steinbeck’s 1952 masterpiece and a personal favorite book of mine.

My immediate reaction? Well, I feel like the published reports are doing a disservice to the project by referring to it as a remake. My theory? One reason why remake sounds so appealing is that it invokes the legendary James Dean. In addition, I have yet to see the finished product (obviously), but I am confident that this will be a big screen adaptation all on its own. My “evidence” lies with the fact that Ms. Lawrence is slated to play a young version of Cathy. For me, this signals that this film, unlike the Elia Kazan version, would cover material from the first part of the novel (the 1955 Kazan classic started further down the like with main protagonists Cal and Abel as young men).

James Dean and Julie Harris in the 1955 film version of "East of Eden"

James Dean and Julie Harris in the 1955 film version of “East of Eden”

At this time, I also refer you to a “condensed analysis,” i.e., Sparknotes of the novel, if you are not so inclined, by time or temperament, to read it. That said, I do suggest that you read the book. It will give you a great primer on what is in store for audiences.

As for this earlier version, while I never posted a review here on iluvcinema.com, overall, I enjoyed it; the performances all-around were fantastic. However with a running time of nearly two hours, it was nearly impossible for Kazan to condense such a voluminous source material into a film you could watch in one sitting. I would be curious to see how this one shapes up.

East of Eden will be directed by Hunger Games director Gary Ross and produced by Brian Grazer.

Readers: Are you looking forward to this? Please comment below.

Interview with “Vivien Leigh” Author Kendra Bean

TCM’s book of the Month for October 2013 is first time author Kendra Bean’s Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait.

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Author Kendra Bean

Kendra Bean she received a BA in Film and Media Studies from the University of California (Irvine) in 2006 and holds an MA (with distinction) in Film Studies from King’s College London, where her focus was on British cinema; her dissertation, a “star study” of Vivien Leigh. In 2007, Kendra founded VivAndLarry.com, a site dedicated to preserving the memories of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. The forthcoming Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait (Running Press) is a self-described “labor of love,” over five years in the making. This project has provided Kendra the opportunity to combine her passions for history, film, and photography – the end result being a lavishly illustrated and well-researched retrospective of Ms. Leigh’s life and times.

Recently, Kendra graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me in the run up to the release of her book, available October 8th.

 

What drew you to the life story and career of Vivien Leigh?
I’ve been interested in Vivien’s story for years. Having been obsessed with cinema since childhood, I always feel compelled to learn as much as I can about films that really grab hold of me. This was the case with Gone With the Wind, which I saw for the first time as a teenager. Reading stories about the production of David O. Selznick’s epic and its stars, Vivien stood out as the most interesting figure. Sometimes I read biographies about actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood and feel that my curiosity has been satisfied. With Vivien, it seemed that the more I read, the more I wanted to know
 
To me, Vivien is such a fascinating and inspirational woman. She had no real interest in film stardom and was much more concerned with being considered a great stage actress, so she starred in the biggest box office hit of all time and then left Hollywood. Compared to many of her contemporaries, her screen appearances were few and often times far between. She made only 19 films in 30 years, and yet she won two Oscars and is still considered one of the greatest cinematic luminaries of her generation. Unafraid of taking risks, she threw herself into a variety of different projects in order to gain as much experience as possible. This resulted in a Tony, a BAFTA, and several other awards. And to think, she managed to achieve all of these things while battling both mental and chronic physical illness. It had to have been extremely difficult to balance a high profile career while facing such personal adversity, and there was a heavy tragic element to her story, but what I find so admirable is that she didn’t let these trials and tribulations beat her down. Her popularity with audiences never really waned and she rode that wave until the very end. It’s quite extraordinary. Talk about perseverance!

 

In your research (and at the risk of possibly providing some ‘exclusive’ insight into your book), what was the most fascinating thing you found out about Vivien Leigh?
This is a tough question because I find so many facets of Vivien’s life and career to be fascinating. During my research I read through many personal letters that Vivien wrote, and which were written about her. It was if a curtain was pulled back and I got an intimate glimpse into her inner world. One of my favorite examples were the letters she sent to Olivier during the war, a few of which are quoted in the book.
 
In 1943, Olivier was in Ireland shooting Henry V, which would be a great triumph for both him as a director, and for British cinema. Vivien was still tied to her seven-year contract to David O. Selznick, and the producer forbade her from accepting the role of Princess Catherine in Olivier’s film. So, she joined the Old Vic Spring Party and spent that summer entertaining British and American troops in North Africa. It was a real treat to read about her personal experiences during this time. The letters really capture the zeitgeist of the time, revealing her unwavering patriotism during a very volatile period in world politics. She described performing for and meeting King George VI, members of the backstage crew being suspected of espionage, and the feeling of purpose in bringing joy to men who had seen nothing but combat for months. Throughout it all, she missed Olivier and there was a real feeling of urgency in her wish to be reunited with him.
 
In addition to your study of Leigh, you also have a website is titled Viv and Larry – how much does their relationship factor into your story?
While the book covers Vivien’s life before and after Olivier, he was a hugely influential figure to her, both personally and professionally. They were together for nearly 25 years and although they divorced, she never really got over him, so he plays a large role in that context. There has been much written about their relationship, with varying opinions and varying degrees of sensationalism. I really tried to be objective about their life together, and I think this was greatly helped by the materials in the Olivier Archive, which had been inaccessible to previous Vivien biographers (all of the significant biographies were written while Olivier was still alive, and he refused to be interviewed).

 

vivien coverNow that you have tackled this project, what’s next on the horizon for you?
I’d really like to explore Vivien a bit more than the format of this book (illustrated biography) allowed, and would also like to explore the lives of other classic film stars. I’ve got a few ideas for future projects, but that’s all I can say about it right now!

 
Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait is available for pre-order on Amazon (US & UK), Barnes & Noble and Waterstones.

Also be sure the follow Kendra on twitter (@kendrajbean) and Facebook (@kendrabeandotcom).

Overlooked: Tight Spot (1955) Featuring Ginger Rogers

This week’s selection is truly an inspired choice; inspired because I just finished watching it on TCM. Tight Spot is a 1955 noir-ish melodrama that stars Ginger Rogers, Brian Keith, Edward G. Robinson and Lorne Greene.

I decided that this is an interesting film to call to your attention because it is yet another one of those non-singing, non-dancing Ginger Rogers roles. In it, she plays a woman who faces the challenge of testifying against a crime kingpin (Lorne Greene) in a federal trial.

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Overall it is a solidly put together film; but not groundbreaking. As I previously mentioned, it is noir-ish in so much as there exists the genre’s easily identifiable seedy, criminal underbelly in the form of Greene’s Benjamin Constain and his cronies who try to “get” to Rogers’ Sherry Conley, but the dramatic tension (for my part  at least) drives the film into the realm of the melodramatic. The best line is reserved for the final line of the film. Won’t spoil it for you here – I simply suggest you take a moment to catch this one when you can.

 

*Be sure to also check out other overlooked/forgotten titles at my colleague Todd Mason’s blog, Sweet Freedom.

 

i luv cinema Pick: Blue Caprice (2013)

Blue Caprice is director Alexandre Moors’ debut feature and tells the story of Beltway Sniper, John Allan Muhammed (portrayed by Isaiah Washington) and his protégé/accomplice, teen Lee Boyd Malvo (played by Tequan Richmond).  While the film centers on the events 2002 reign of terror, there is also a strong emphasis on the twisted ‘father/son’ bond that developed between the two men.

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Moors, through his steady handling of the subject, succeeds in creating and maintaining a high level of dramatic tension while also weaving into the film archival footage from the events that terrorized the metro Washington, D.C. area in October 2002. Although we know WHAT is going to happen, the story captures its audience by telling the HOW and (possibly) WHY.

I for one was watching in anticipation for that flashpoint which could have possibly marked the point of no return for the main characters (on film and in real life, which I am guessing was one of the director’s intentions when pursuing this project).

Obviously for purposes of the narrative, some of the information and details have been slightly altered and/or condensed, but not in any manner, at least by my opinion, that takes the story in any exploitative direction. The film could have gone the route of showing in graphic detail the horrors of the shootings, but instead handles the subject in a tactful manner all without minimizing the sheer terror surrounding the incident

For my part, as the credits drew to a close,  the one thing I think the film does make abundantly clear is Muhammed using Malvo as a pawn and proxy for the murderous rampage – by falsely representing things noticeably absent Malvo’s life: a father figure and stable home life. It was a compelling and ultimately sad thing to watch unfold onscreen.

While Washington and Richmond dominate the action on screen with aplomb, Tim Blake Nelson and Joey Lauren Adams each put in solid performances as Muhammed’s army buddy and wife, with whom Muhammed and Malvo stay as Muhammed grooms Malvo to execute his plan.

Even before seeing this film, it had made my list of films of note from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Its thoughtful execution reaffirms this.

Blue Caprice is currently in select cinemas and available for rental/streaming through SundanceNow.

‘Touchy Feely’ Left Me Feeling ……

Written and directed by Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Keeper, Safety Not Guaranteed), Touchy Feely stars Rosemarie DeWitt and Josh Pais as a sibling pair that could not be any more dissimilar.

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Abby (DeWitt) is a Seattle-based masseur renowned for her ability to heal her clientele through her remarkable touch. Her brother Paul (Pais) on the other hand is a dentist with a practice that is fledgling, to say the very least. He is assisted in office by his equally emotionally awkward daughter Jenny (Ellen Page), with whom he has a strange co-dependent relationship.

Everyone’s lives are turned upside down, when almost simultaneously – Abby develops a crippling aversion to human bodily contact, while Paul sees his business thrive with reports of his having the ability to heal all ailments of the mouth. As one can imagine this reversal of fortune on the professional front has reverberations on their emotional and personal lives. Abby’s ‘touch-o-phobia’ hinders her relationship with boyfriend (Scoot McNarry). Contrastly, Paul begins a  journey to discover the source of his newly gained powers, thus bringing him into the sphere of Bronwyn (Allison Janney).

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While it had its funny (and emotionally resonate) moments, I should readily admit that this type of film is not necessarily my cup of tea – too high a ‘quirkiness quotient.’ Don’t get me wrong, the performances are well delivered and evoke a degree of sincerity, but in the end, I felt like in trying to be offbeat, Touchy Feely missed a beat, leaving me exiting the screening with more questions than I was happy with. For example, the B-story of Jenny (Page) seems a bit trivial and inconsequential to the overall plot mechanics in my opinion. In many ways, it feels like it was an add-on to put Page’s acting on display. This quibble also relates to a larger problem I had with the film – the pacing and editing sometimes left me WHERE I was in the story and how one moment connected to another. This did not occur frequently, but the unevenness cropped up enough to give me pause for the duration of the film.

Ultimately, Touchy Feely is a well-intentioned film but its heavy-handedness in the direction of the unconventional, make it a miss for me.

 

Short Term 12 Delivers on All Levels

Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton took his own personal experience as a worked in a California group home as the basis for his latest project, Short Term 12. A standout at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival (and based on Cretton’s 2009 Sundance short), Short Term 12 offers a personalized and harrowing insight into the lives of the staff and residents of a children’s ‘short-term facility’ in California.

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At the film’s opening, we are introduced to Grace (Brie Larson), by way of Nate (Rami Malek), the newest staff member. Grace heads of the very young staff a staff that surprisingly appear very close in age to their charges. As the story progresses we meet other members of staff and residents of the campus, including Marcus (Keith Stanfield), Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) and Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), Grace’s coworker and boyfriend.

Often in ensemble pieces, it is hard to connect with many of the characters we encounter. Here that was not the case. I really felt that the loved was shared among all and felt a profound connection to the characters’ lives. Cretton accomplished this by not just focusing on an individual/story for an elapsed time, he gives his audience just enough information at points of the narrative that allow us, over the film’s run time, to create a complex and complete picture. It was done exceptionally well.

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The performances of the students in the group home, many of them with limited or non-existent previous screen credits; they leap off the screen and connect with the viewer on a raw, emotionally charged level. In his turn as the emotionally troubled, ‘about to age out of the system’ Marcus, Keith Stanfield has a standout performance.

Simply put, Short Term 12 is a moving story, well told and featuring some really good performances across the board.

Short Term 12 is currently showing in select cinemas across the country.

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: The Express (2008)

Biopics that are equally informative and inspiring are kinda hard to do, aren’t they? In fact, at its basest they can be described as trite and overly reliant on cliché to pull these elements off.

In that light, a part of my basis for “judging” (term used advisedly) films of this is down to my actions following watching the film. Just how interested does this story make me about the truth behind what I am seeing on screen? I have been known to spend hours following viewing a film digging around the internet, hungry for more information to feed that hunger.

This week’s overlooked selection, The Express, fits that bill and is a fitting addition to the collection, as it comes ripe off of the first complete week of the NFL season.

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Rob Brown as Ernie Davis (left) and Dennis Quaid as Ben Schwartzwadler in “The Express”

The Express tells the tale of the nation’s first African-American Heisman Trophy winner, Ernie Davis of Syracuse University. For my non-sports enthusiasts out there, the Heisman Trophy is an award voted by a select panel and given to the nation’s top collegiate football player.

Certainly the film ticks all the boxes that make biopics so endearing and reassuring to American audiences about what is possible to us if we are determined and believe. In spite of this, I did not find it overly saccharine or schmaltzy. That may be due in part to the history-making feat being followed by the decidedly profound tragic turn that came immediately after.

Even if you are not a sports fan, I think you will appreciate this film.

The Boys are Back and Headed to “The World’s End” (2013)

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I cannot imagine any better place to catch at the newly opened Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY (more on this later) for the final installment of Edgar Wright’sCornetto,” a.k.a “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy, The World’s End.

For the uninitiated, the trilogy started in 2004 with the hilarious zombie (we don’t say the zed word!) installment, Shaun of the Dead followed a few years later by the police spoof Hot Fuzz. Headlining each of these films are Wright’s frequent partners-in-crime, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. If you are worried that you have to catch up on these films before catching this feature, DON’T; this series is a trilogy in the loosest sense – many of the key players happen to be the same but the stories are totally different and not interconnected in any way. However, that said, you would do yourself a great cinematic disservice if you chose not to catch the prior two.

Now that this is all settled, here is my summary of the action that takes place in The World’s End:

The year is 1990 and in the suburban U.K. enclave of Newton Haven, five buddies decide to celebrate the end of school by embarking on an epic pub crawl. Sadly they fall short of their quest, with the last pub on the list, The World’s End eluding them. Fast forward roughly 20 years later, and we seen the boys, now men (obviously) in their adult stations, far away from the days of reckless youth – they are responsible husbands, fathers, career men – with the exception of Gary King (played by Simon Pegg). Gary is a manchild, who never moved past those halcyon adolescent years. Despite years of estrangement, he decides to “get the band back together” to finish what they started oh so many years ago. The crew includes Andy (Nick Frost), Steven (Paddy Considine), Oliver (Martin Freeman), and Peter (Eddie Marsan). After convincing them to return to Newton Haven to complete the long-delayed mission, they notice that things are not quite as they remember them and soon find themselves on a mission of an entirely different sort …

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At this point, the film descends (ascends) into a race against time to save humanity, really. It achieves this while making us laugh. In addition, there is theme that strikes a chord with the film’s target demo – it is a piece that underneath the surface includes some retrospective on vanished youth and lives approaching middle age, often at a pace that is a little more rapid than one wants.

My thoughts? The balance of comedy sci-fi works in a way similar to how the previous films revised and re-imagined the zombie and buddy-cop film genres respectively with the same, enjoyable result. Obviously Pegg (who again co-wrote with Wright) and Frost are the most recognizable performers and as always deliver the goods (I am especially a fan of Mr. Frost’s performances), it should be duly noted the rest of the cast, including (among others) Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan are equally effective at bringing the right amount of laughter and enjoyment to the proceedings.

The Wright-Pegg stable of comedy films (and television shows) definitely carry a certain cache with them, in this case making an end product that has a VERY loyal following who share their fan-boy devotion to many of Generation X’s cultural milestones. I say this because, as always, it may not be suited to everyone’s taste and some of the comedy MAY (just may) be lost in translation to moviegoers not familiar with some of the cultural references in the film. In my mind, this is another reason you may want to see the first two films before The World’s End. In fact, this is exactly what I did.

As part of the promotion leading up to the release of the film, cinemas nationwide were running Cornetto trilogy marathons, exhibiting the three films in a row. I tell you, I think sitting in the theater with a large group of like-minded folks was the perfect way to usher in the screening of The World’s End. Just wanted to put that out there.

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At this late date, I highly doubt you will able to have this experience of seeing all three on the big screen; regardless, The World’s End is recommended viewing.

My Thoughts on “The Story of Film: An Odyssey”

Originally released in the UK in 2011, The Story of Film: An Odyssey got its US television broadcast premier Monday night (9/2) on TCM. An inspired piece, the documentary spans 15-episodes and is presented by UK-based film critic Mark Cousin, its content adapted from his 2004 book The Story of Film. Each episode covering a fixed span of time serves as an “introduction” to a series of films related to the theme of the episode.

Story of Film

What is it about you may ask? Well, it is exactly as advertised on the tin – it traces the history of cinema as an art form, starting with the visionaries and pioneers (Edison, Lumiere Brothers) and eventually working its way up to contemporary cinema.

How it gets there is unique to say the very least. It is often a personal insight that combines history with the more technical aspects of the movie-making process, all the while interconnecting these elements to the entire world of cinema, past and present. In that way it truly spans all corners of the globe and looks at film from a decidedly international perspective.

Be warned, as I was earlier in the evening: it does contain some plot revelations (“spoilers”) to films that you may have yet to see; for example, in the first episode (the only one I have seen so far), the ending of Once Upon a Time in the West was revealed. Will this stop me from watching? Heck nah. I find the history and the various clips chosen to accompany the documentary far too compelling to turn away.

Well that's a shame ...

Well that’s a shame …

It should also be noted that the documentary is narrated by Mr. Cousins himself, and is delivered in what I can only describe as an unconventional manner. I suppose may be due in part with his rather distinctive brogue (although Northern Irish, Mr. Cousins is currently based in Scotland). Another characteristic I have surmised early on is that some of the statements made by M. Cousins may come off as rather jarring and opinionated. In his preamble to Episode 1, he states that Casablanca is not a classic film. What the … ? However, upon further reflection, I realize this does not mean that he is saying the film is bad or unworthy of special merit, praise or noteworthiness, but rather I suspect/hope he is trying to blow wide open, to challenge and expand our notions about what he calls “the language of film,” in a way that moves beyond films being merely a Hollywood convention. In other words, Casablanca may very well be a landmark of American film making history, but it is just one in a larger canon of what makes cinema CINEMA. Even in this light, or maybe because of this, I am here for all of it.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey will air new episodes every Monday night through December, with a repeat airing on Tuesday, although the accompanying films will be new each evening.

Have you seen this documentary (in part or in whole)? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Films Set in North Carolina

This post is inspired by my recent excursion to the state of North Carolina. Usually, I visit the greater Charlotte area (family and friends being the reason) but this time around I was in the “central/northern-ish” part of the state.

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Anyway, as with most things in life, I tied my trip back to the movies, did some digging around and came up with a list of some of my fave flicks set in the Tar Heel State.

  • Cape Fear (1991) – very able remake to a classic film.
  • This is Spinal Tap (1984) – well at least part of it was set
  • George Washington (2000) – see previous post on Green’s latest, “Prince Avalanche”
  • The Descent (2005) – horror generally not my genre du jour but this was quite watchable

Honorable Mention for films I should have seen by now:

And a final shoutout to a film that has yet to be released: Serena starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

That’s me done; how about you? Hit the comments section below with some of your favorites.