a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for August, 2011

TIFF begins before it starts. Coriolanus’ Ralph Fiennes Masterpiece

As I quoted John Steinbeck earlier, before I left for Montreal, “Trips begin before they start.” And now TIFF has begun with a BANG! as I got to see a pre-TIFF screening of “Coriolanus,” which is the great Ralph Fiennes directorial debut as well as perhaps the best he’s ever been as an actor, which is saying A LOT .

As Coriolanus, himself, one of Shakespeare’s most troublesome heroes or anti-heroes or a character who heretofore has been virtually un-classifiable as well as over-looked. In doing all this re-imagining so magnificently, Fiennes has created his own masterpiece. It’s the absolute pinnacle of his career as an actor, and he’s the pretty damn good first time director, too!

Shakespeare’s great leading men were all supposed to be characters who had ONE tragic flaw, and Coriolanus’ was that he was supposedly “too proud.” And that has been the long and the short of it for centuries. Until now.

Ralph Fiennes has brilliantly re-thought and re-configured this tragedy and made it something very, very modern and timely and something that is definitive and totally his own. It’s an overwhelming Shakespearean as well as cinematic achievement.

In setting it in some kind of war-torn Eastern Europe setting -Bosnia? Serbia? and loading the first half hour up with almost unbearably unwatchable bloodshed, explosion, bombs, etc., he effectively illustrates that THIS is what Coriolanus can do. Make war. Kill people. Destroy every thing in his path. He’s the ultimate adrenaline junkie, like Jeremy Renner’s indelible soldier/killer character in “The Hurt Locker.”

And after that bloody initial first section of the film, which I thought was a tad overdone and overlong and not Shakespearean at all, and goes on forever, “Coriolanus” settles down to become what I have always believed it to be, Shakespeare’s only play about MOM.

Whether this is a veiled portrait of his own mother, Mary Arden, who was a staunch Catholic, in the Elizabethan days, when that meant death, Volumnia, always a good part, to my mind, here in the hands of the great Vanessa Redgrave, becomes one of Shakespeare’s most frightening and powerful villianesses. She practically tops Lady Macbeth here in that she’s Coriolanus’ MOM. The all-powerful, passive-aggressive military MOM, she  is as blood-thirsty and dangerous as any she-wolf-hound and as any of Shakespeare’s great bad gals.

Redgrave’s chilling performance vaults Volumnia into the ranks of one of the best characters that Shakespeare ever wrote, simply and forever.

And as she utters the foulest and most outrageous of Shakespeare’s dialogue, she is ever-so elegant and o so charming and as sweet as apple crumble  pie. She’s utterly, completely reasonable. Every inch a lady. She’s never a shrew, and she’s FRIGHTENING!

Shakespeare never really wrote about the topic of MOM so completely before or after. And Coriolanus, as Ralph Fiennes’ plays him so persuasively, is one sick puppy. A military one-man killing machine, he cannot deal with people or politics and gets ousted as consul by the people of Rome in mere hours or days after he is elected, because he simply can’t speak to them. He refuses to show them his wounds, literally, and the Roman rabble turns on him, in a split second and he is ousted from his home, his family, his country and labeled a traitor, simply because in modern terms, he has no social skills whatsoever.

He’s a great soldier, a great general, but all he can do is fight, fight, fight. He’s not humble about anything. And when the battle is over, he can’t stop fighting, with everyone around him, until the only person he has left to fight with is himself. As Fiennes’ character begins to lose it you realize that he is playing a self-destructive, mentally ill man. A paranoid, certainly. A schizophrenic, yes, perhaps.

But Fiennes’ in his interpretation, places all the blame for Fiennes’ descent into hell, squarely on the broad shoulders of  MOM, Vanessa. And Ms. Redgrave, now well into her later years, shows time does not stop for genius, as she lays her great actress’ s hands on Volumnia and shakes her and inflates her, until she grows and grows in to this GIANTESS of all-devouring, but socially sweet matron/dragon. She scares even as she charms, and her ultimate scene, the scene where outside the walls of Rome, she pleads for her city and for her vengeful, bat-shit crazy, beautiful son to come back to her. Come back to Rome! and Shakespeare and Fiennes has her kneeling over and over again pleading, cajoling, manipulating, begging, and that scene alone, says Oscar! Oscar! Oscar!

Redgrave also speaks Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter as if it were conversational speech. Another achievement. And since Volumnia’s lines and character are not as well-known as, say Lady Macbeth, every word she utters, every moment she has, seems absolutely FRESH.

I think one of the greatnesses of this instant classic of film, is that it redefines both Coriolanus and Volumnia as two of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, though until now they never appeared as such. The over-possesive mother and the wounded, crazy child.

Coriolanus’ problem was not that he was “too Proud”. It was his mother!

And Redgrave may very certainly be looking at another Oscar here. It’s going to be hard for any of the other ladies, who may be nominated as Best Supporting Actress(though in this film, she’s really the co-lead) to come up to ,or top this towering actress’  career-capping achievement in “Coriolanus.”

So what Fiennes has done is make this not a play about a patrician soldier, a play, or rather, a film about a play about a man at war with himself, and actually, a film about a man at war with his mother.

A mother who completely mis-reads and over-pushes and over-dominates her war-talented son. Fiennes and Redgrave do a memorable pas-de-deux here on Shakespeare’s only really stab at motherhood, literally. And stab at it, he does.

And with Harvey Weinstein as producer, you can be pretty sure both Fiennes and Redgrave are going to the Oscar dance this year. And Redgrave is certainly now the front-runner in her category. And how! And I hope she staggering achievement as Volumnia doesn’t overwhelm Fiennes’ Oscar chances as Best Actor. Or Best Director. Or both. It could. And it might. And his expert Voldemort in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt.2” may hurt him here. Or help him. It certianly could be confusing to Oscar voters. Maybe he’ll be nominated for BOTH performances!

Jessica Chastain as Coriolanus’ weepy, weak wife has virtually nothing to do except cry. And Gerard Butler is OK, but not Oscar worthy as Coriolanus arch-enemy, the king of the Volscians. (sp?)

More complex as more aptly a possible Supporting Actor nominee is British actor Brian Cox, who FINALLY gets a part he get sink his teeth into, as Coriolanus’ mediator, explicator and finally tragic go-between.

But the film is Fiennes’ and certainly Redgrave’s. Vanessa is the one to beat. But Fiennes is fine, fine, fine, too. The envelope, please…

Redgrave’s only Oscar blockage is her previous win decades ago for Julia, and her politics, but the Academy may overlook all this because her Volumnia is  so stupendous, charismatic overwhelming and frightening. She LOVES war more than any of the men in the film, and she has brought up her only son to be a killing machine, but she has not been able to make him a man.

And in Shakespeare’s play about a war against MOM, who do you think wins?

Irene, after…

Well, Hurricane Irene is allll over and the air is fresh. The sky is an incredible blue, the type of blue most seen in the Rockys. No clouds whatsoever, just this pure, clear blue, and New Yorkers are walking around again and they’re smiling.

And the city looks like somebody just took it out and washed it throughly which is exactly what Irene just did.

The subways are running. The buses are running. The taxis were ALLLLWAYS running. And everything looks strangely new. And everyone looks very well rested.

Which shut up in their apartments, they all were.

A cleaner New York…and no one was killed or injured…Now THAT is amazing…

As I prepare to dive into pre-TIFF movie screenings here in NYC before I leave…I hope they are going to be good….There are soooo many films and sooo many titles…Well, it takes awhile to sort them all out…but “Coriolanus” tomorrow night, looks to be a good one. Directed by and starring that helluva nice guy Voldemort, I mean, Ralph Fiennes, and a Volumnia that is said to rank with Vanessa Redgrave’s best and may garner her ANOTHER Oscar…We shall see.

My Montreal Film Fest Wrap-Up Now up at Awardsdaily!

Very happy to report that my Montreal Film Festival Wrap-Up article entitled ” ‘The Artist’ Sparkles and Danny Huston Surprises!” is now up at the always exciting www.awardsdaily.com

I have to explain that this year the Montreal Film Festival moved its’ dates up to much earlier in the summer than its’ ever been. Usually it’s beginning this week in August, not ending, as it will tomorrow night.

So I had to go up and return to NYC BETWEEN Montreal and Toronto. Can’t believe I’m back here anticipating ONLY Toronto and done with Montreal already ~ until next year. And next year I was told that Montreal will be back in its’ old time-slot, so one experiences both festivals, one right after the other, which is what I usually do. But not this year.

The upside is that one gets to do one’s laundry and to get REALLY organized and rest between these two BIG film events.

Hmmm…maybe I’ll do this again next year…or not…

But yes, this is how I spent Irene. Writing about Montreal! Voila!

Irene closes EVERYTHING!

I have never seen anything like this. And no, I wasn’t able to get my Morning Buzz coffee from Whole Foods ground. Every Starbucks is closed. Every store with a coffee grinder is closed. Burger King is closed. McDonald’s is closed. The BANK is closed!

There seemed to be a police woman at every subway entrance posted to tell the public no dice.

And yes, it started to rain again, the minute I left the building, but this time I had a super-huge umbrella. It was just drizzle, really. On and off, as I searched to get my coffee beans ground.

Broadway shows are closed, as I mentioned, til next week. And yet, and yet, there were a lot of dazed looking people wandering around, looking bewilderedly at all the closed stores. And oh yes, the movie houses here, closed, too.

All those stunned, not stunning, white people staggering around in this multi-racial New York, wearing nothing whatever dressy, were undoubtedly tourists, who HAD found a hotel in Manhattan, but now with all the buses and subways shut, they are just stuck within walking distance of their hotels…

And there were still a few people with pull-suitcases(I know there’s a better word for that, but I can’t think of it at the moment. I must be dazed a bit, too.) but only a few, and they were all guys…Last minute-itis…Gets you stuck.

Never before has New York City which LIVES by mass transporation, ever had it ALLLL shut down.

Me, I’m getting cabin fever stuck in here…And the storm has yet to reach here…We’ve got two more days of this. Or a day and a half…I guess I’m glad I stocked up, and ran around, and endured those lonnnnnnnng lines the way I did yesterday and this morning, because now….there’s nothing….

The one restaurant/fast food place I saw open was PACKED with people, all hungry tourists, PACKED.

Ugh. When is this going to be over???

The rain has completely stopped, as have the buses & subways….

The rain has completely stopped. At least for the moment. No thunder in the distance, as I heard briefly this morning, as I dashed about. And one thing that I DIDN’T do is at Whole Foods yesterday, I forgot to get my coffee beans GROUND!?!?

Should I go out now and see if I can accomplish this before Irene makes it IMPOSSIBLE???

Hmmm…I just might….

Irene Catches me in a torrential downpour, then my phone is dead!

I make ONE last grocery run and get caught in a torrential downpour on the way back! Soaked through to the skin! Shirt, pants, shoes, everything! And as quickly as it started, it stops, but I’m still soaking wet.

I see Duane Reade locking customers out and the check-out winds all the way back through the store, like a snake coiling. Something I have never seen before there. The sky turns from grey to white and back again. The buses stop running. People with pull-suitcases heading – where? The Port Authority? Hotels must be packed! Cabs, however, are EVERYWHERE! So people CAN get around Manhattan, if they can catch one. The city is drowning in a sea of yellow. Taxis. Mayor Bloomberg, nor no one can shut them down! SOMEbody’s makin’ a fortune today!

And now the sun is coming out!

But I return home to find my phone is dead, which also means no internet.

My trusty ole dial-up computer Windows 98 gives me instructions. “Check the phone modem connections” or something like that. And I frantically move furniture to find that YES, the phone jack is out of the wall. My vast collection(not really) of movie posters having dislodged it slightly. Just enough to disconnect EVERYTHING and send me into a panic. But as you see, the internet is back on! Phew!

And all on Anthony Del Col’s birthday! Happy birthday Anthony! He’s in Toronto awaiting the opening of TIFF. Where I hope Hurricane Irene is NOT being felt. Anthony is of Conor and Anthony the Kill Shakespeare guyz and to refresh your memory and to get a Shakespearean thrill, check out www.killshakespeare.com He’s turning 34 today, for those who MUST know.

He’s hopefully going to be doing some co-hosting duties and awards chat once I get to TIFF! But first I have to survive Irene, and keep the phone lines ON!

A first few drops, the streets are deserted….Irene begins

And so it begins. Grey storms clouds everywhere. Humidity almost tropical. The streets are strangely deserted. But the buses, this AM, are free!!!

I “rush” to the library this morning to pick up some last minute “holds” that came in while I was in Montreal, and of course, THE LIBRARY WAS CLOSED!?!?!?

On Channel 7, ABC news told me the libraries would be open today, but not Sunday. So I zoom over there and IT’S SHUT!!!!

Fortunately, another free city bus came by instantly. I ran, yes, ran to catch it, and I caught it.

The streets more than a bit deserted for a Saturday morning in NYC. And the traffic’s light. Lots of people with pull-luggage not able to leave from the airports and so heading for the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which evidently IS still operating. Everybody trying to leave. Except those that live here. Like me…

Only Applebee’s had X tapes across its’ windows facing the street. Stores beginning to close, but many still open.

Duane Reade’s still  operating with GIGANTIC lines.

But the air seems fresher, though humid. And NO seagulls. Usually before a storm the seagulls fly inland. A few sparrows, and of course, pigeons! Pigeons, the symbol of New York City. They never leave. Like me.

Hurricane Madness Begins in New York

Still vibrating with the joie of the Montreal Film Festival, I return to find this massive Hurricane Irene approaching NYC! I’m a native New Yorker and I have NEVER seen the kind of grab-for-it madness that I witnessed at several food stores today, with lines also like I’ve never seen. People grabbing seemingly everything off the shelves in all the stores I hit.

Water was what was missing mostly from grocery store shelves, as I trudged wearily homewards after waiting on endless lines for what seemed like hours. This is what it must be like back in ole Moscow, where it was always showing people lining up for bread. And that’s exactly what frenzied New Yorkers where doing today. Sheesh. You’d think they’d never seen a raindrop before.

There have been storms that have hit this city, but they have little impact. And it’s the Media, of course, whipping everyone into a worrisome frenzy.

Big storms don’t really hit here much and New York is so solidly built it doesn’t make a lick of difference usually. It just giveth the weathermen something to get excited about and take up air-time and drive-up ratings with. It’s good television, I’m sorry to say…


And this is the BIG but, Mayor Bloomberg is closing down all public transportation tomorrow, Sat. at noon! Now THIS has never happened before. It effectively freezes everyone in their tracks and makes those at home HAVE to stay there. Or walk, which I do a lot of anyway.

People were out in droves on the street, all with grocery bags or one sort of the other. And they all looked inordinately stressed. Like the Hurricane was going to blow the skyscrapers over. Not gonna happen.

It’s only a category 1 anyway. And as it inevitably wends its’ way up the coast it always gets weaker.

My mother always regaled us with stories of the hurricane SHE was caught out in Providence, R.I. in 1938. The one that knocked Katherine Hepburn’s Connecticut estate down.  She could never stop talking about it.

But I will. Here.

It’s just massively inconvenient. But then, I can still walk to the Library! Unless all the stores and businesses start closing tomorrow at noon, too. Which they might.

I’ve got a LOT of DVDs of movies to catch up on before departing for TIFF, or the Toronto International Film Festival, which is my next stop, and for all of you who read me regularly know, that’s where I started blogging last year! And I’m STILL doing it! I can’t believe it! And I will be blogging from Toronto once I get there, which is still 10 days or so away. So hold on. Or rather HOLT! ON!

Montreal’s Magnificent “La Loggia”! The ART B&B!

Just back from ANOTHER wonderful trip to Montreal! I never get tired of that fascinating city! This is my 13th year in a row and I now have this growing-daily blog to report on some of its’ wonders that I might not get to do otherwise. And a terrific choice for you, dear readers, dear cineastes is La Loggia, which calls itself “The Art B&B” and it is!

You can find it at www.laloggia.ca

That’s .ca as in Canada, not .com.

And I had a beautiful restful stay in the Garden Room, in a gigantic four-poster bed, overlooking its’ heavenly garden. That is so lush and tropical, you can’t believe you’re in the middle of downtown Montreal! And mere minutes away from the delights of this amazing city, and right in the heart of the Gay Village.

Everything about La Loggia is artful. There were paintings in my room on each wall. And sculptures everywhere by one of the two owners, Joel A. Prevost! He and his lover Rob Ross, a personal trainer, as well as the most enthusiastic of gardeners, are incredibly giving and concerned with each of their guests’ needs.

And the continental breakfast that they serve is perfect for any one who wants to watch their weight or has health issues, as I do,  being diabetic.

Montreal regulations insist on B&Bs only having five rooms to rent and La Loggia uses every inch of their compact space to panoramic advantage, especially the incredible garden, which is a visual and sensual delight, enhanced everywhere you look by Joel’s amazing bronze sculptures.

Joel is a neo-classical sculptor who specializes in incredible torsos of the male form, and they are everywhere you look at La Loggia, again, especially in the garden.

Go to their website, again www.laloggia.ca and you’ll see what you’re missing if you don’t stay there next time you’re in Montreal! Stay there or be square!

“Rise of Planet of Apes” & “Friends W/Benefits” -Good Summer Fun, but no Oscars

I liked both “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “Friends With Benefits.” They’re good, solid summer fare, popcorn movies, but Oscar won’t be awarding any grand prizes for films that are just, well, fun. Entertaining for sure, in that good ole fashioned way that movies USED to be. But which Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do in recent years.

Yes, yes, I broke my pre-festival rule, and went to see two movies that AREN’T going to be in any of upcoming three festivals that I’m attending(Toronto, Montreal and then New York). I can’t believe it did it, but I did. I had accomplished enough pre-festival prepping-wise, so I went.

The critical hullabaloo that “Apes” was causing made me go, quite frankly. I skipped all the earlier Ape re-incarnations years back. Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans and Roddy MacDowell in monkey masks was an insulting, belittling of great, talented actors to my then teenaged mind. So no. I didn’t go. I’m not a fan of acting with masks in any case.

But the reviews for “Rise of the Planet…” were so ecstatic I just HAD to go. And I had to see if James Franco, whom I did once interview, and whom I’ve always liked, a lot, would recover from his Oscar debacle and his dissing of my BFF Anne Hathaway. And the answer to both questions is yes, and yes

Yes, ROTPOTA works and yes, James is just FINE, in this, his comeback movie, as it were, the first big one post-Oscar hosting…He, and his girlfriend in the film, the lovely Frida Pinto both throw themselves whole-heartedly into acting opposite the performance-capture performance of Andy Serkis as the ape instigator Caesar. And his Oscar fuck-up becomes a mere hiccup in what is obviously going to be a very long and very popular career.

And Andy Serkis’ unseen performance is extraordinary. It’s on a par with his Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Tower” and “Return of the King.” He once again was mesmerizing, and particularly so in the early parts of the movie as the young chimpanzee who is adopted by humans.His Caesar is smart and gifted and so much like Nim, the subject of “Project Nim”(which I reviewed for www.awardsdaily.com when I was at the Provincetown Film Festival earlier this year.)

Nim was also a very smart chimp who was being raised by humans as an experiment…which goes awry as the wild animal within him begins to assert himself and he is eventually shipped off to a chimp “sanctuary” just like Caesar is in “Rise…” with tragic results in Nim’s case, but triumphant ones for Caesar as he begins his vengeful quest for world domination, which of course is the “third act” as they now call it of this movie.

It works. Serkis’ Caesar and Franco and Pinto all work and are involving. And John Lithgow is compelling as Franco’s Alzheimer’s riddled father and Brian Cox does great hefty work as the proprietor of the Chimp Hotel that Caesar gets sent to.

It’s good for what it is. Which is an old-fashioned SciFi Horror Movie spruced up and made new with all these CGI effects. AND Andy Serkis scoring yet again, sight unseen, as the wordless chimp.

But one of the Best Pictures of the Year? I don’t think so. But then accept for “Harry Potter”s finale and the magnificent “Midnight in Paris” it’s been a pretty dismal year so far.

And Oscar isn’t going to reward this. But who cares? It’s just good popcorn fun.

The exact same thing can be said about “Friends with Benefits” which I liked A LOT. And more than I liked “Rise…” actually. Why? Well, for starts, it has PEOPLE in it. And Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis give great star-making turns, revealing flairs for light comedy that is going to propel them into many, many rom-coms in the future, which is fine with me.

They are both VERY watchable on screen and are both revelations and fun, fun, fun.

Again, Oscar doesn’t take comedy seriously.


And I know how difficult it is to pull off this light-as-air genre. And Timberlake and Kunis, both new to starring roles in this genre, do it just fine, thank you very much.

They are two young execs in New York(which never looked hipper or more fun in a LONNNNNNG time) who after a lot of preliminary blah-blah-blah decide to have sex, but not any kind of “relationship, just sex” and as they say, hilarity ensues. AND lots of sex scenes. LOTS of them. And he’s more nude more often than she is. Which is refreshing.

And yes, he does sing a few notes and busts a few moves, both in and out of his clothes. And his sense of comic timing is just masterful. They were both delights to watch.

And no one was more surprised than I that I liked them both so much. And I liked “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, too.

Two enjoyable movies. I guess I’m on a roll.

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