a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for January, 2013

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ANOTHER Oscar Nominee! “Buzkhashi Boys” Sam French ~ Best Live Action Short!

I know it’s an Oscar category that nobody ever pays attention to ~ until now ~when I give the full-on “Stephen Holt Show” interview experience to the dynamic Sam French, a filmmaker who lives and works in Kabul, Afghanistan! “Buzkashi Boys” is about two street kids who dream of growing up to be Buzkhashi horsemen, which is the national sport of Afghanistan. I’ll let Sam descrbie exactly what it is. Even though a short, this film was really powerful, shot completely on the streets and locations in Kabul, capturing sights never seen before on film.

I interviewed Sam this summer at the Montreal Film Festival. We went to see the final screening of his film in the Cinema ONF of the National Film Board of Canada on one of the days before it was about to be torn down! An historic moment!

Camera-Cody Michaels
Editing-Kevin Teller

“Downton Abbey” Ep.4 ~ A Masterpiece of Shock and Awe

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!

If you haven’t seen Ep.4 of Season 3 of “Downton Abbey”, the season that is blowing minds right now, don’t read any further.

It’s a masterpiece, I feel, of dramatic series television. I’m in shock at what happened and in awe of the stupendous, brilliant performances of the entire cast, in this, what had to be their most challenging episode. Fresh off their SAG award win on Sunday for Best Drama Series, Downton Abbey in this horrifying episode more than lived up to its’ accolades.

What happens in Episode 4 that is so shattering, so shocking, I feel like I can only talk about it in a whisper as if I were one of Downton Abbey’s loyal but distraught servants…

Lady Sybil Crawley dies in childbirth.

Yes. They’ve killed off one of the hit series major characters, the youngest and most beautiful of the three Crawley sisters, who are at the center of Downton’s great story.

SUCH a shock. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it happen, but it was.

Lady Sybil was giving birth at home, Downton, of course, even though she’s the one who had run off with the studly chauffeur, Irish rebel Tom Branson(the excellent Allen Leech)and there are TWO doctors attending her. One the local doc,Played by David Robb, who’s been on the show since the beginning, and one, a knight, played by Tim Piggott who Lord Grantham has brought in from London.

They fight, as Sybil is struggling in birth bangs and their heated dialogue is a summation of sorts of the thoughts about birth-ing in the days before modern medicine. The family doctor diagnoses eclampsia(sp?) and possibly fatal situation that requires Sybil to be taken immediately to a hospital and a Caesarian section be performed and Sir Whatever is saying “It’s all right. It’s perfectly normal.”

And unfortunately the family doctor is right. And the beautiful 24-year-old comely heroine passes away in scene after horrifying scene where the actress Jessica Brown Findlay gives the best performance she’s ever given thus far.

I kept thinking of my red-headed Scottish great-grandmother, whom I never knew, of course, who also died in childbirth, leaving her surviving daughter, my beloved grandmother traumatized forever.Women often died in childbirth in those days and writer Fellowes obviously wanted to depict this tragic situation, and he did so in a profoundly compelling way. The horror of Sybil’s death seems worse than the horrors we saw in Season 2 of World War I.

In Downton’s stellar cast of twenty+plus leads, I always felt she was the weakest link, acting-wise. She was merely pretty and not up to the nuance of “Downton”s complex, brilliant script by Jullian Fellowes, just barely skating through on her sensational dark good looks and voluptuous figure.

I hope they didn’t kill her off for bad acting. But possibly they did. In any case, she, young, beautiful, rebellious, is dead, and looking realistically like hell in the process. Poor thing.Death did not become her.

But this really shocked me. To kill off a leading character in a sensationally successful hit series is just never done. And one didn’t expect this to happen to arguably the most beautiful young woman on the show. One didn’t see this coming. And the impact on the remaining two Crawley sisters, the superb Lady Mary(Michelle Dockery) and the marvelous Lady Edith(Laura Carmichael), their parents Lord and Lady Grantham(Hugh Bonneville and Maureen McGovern) is shattering. And of course, affords Dame Maggie Smith as the grieving grandmother a chance to show off her legendary dramatic chops as her heart breaks with the rest of her family’s at the grim injustice of this tragedy. As we see her walk away from the strong-arm of the butler, leaning on her cane for strength, she seems barely able to make it to the doorway.

And of course the emotion and drama run high throughout this entire episode the most powerful of the entire series. So far. Most moving of all I found was the surviving husband’s, Irish Tom Branson’s, helpless grief. His baby girl survives, but he has lost his beautiful, young wife, whom he desperately loved.

I was devastated. Truly. As if someone I had known had died. I feel like I’ve been mourning poor Lady Sybil
all week. I’ve watched Ep.4 three times already as it kept coming up on different PBS stations.

For those of you who MUST know, after its initial airing on Sunday night at 9pm EST on Ch.13 here in New York and rebroadcast on WLIW at 8pm on Monday night and then again at 1AM Monday night.

It’s probably coming on again right now somewhere, and of course, you can watch it IMMEDIATELY online at pbs.org.

The last image is of the sobbing father, Tom, holding his new-born baby daughter in his arms, staring out an upstairs window of the vast estate, almost as if he and his little child are prisoners there now.

I wasn’t expecting this. There are three more episodes to go, and they’ve GOT to top this one. It was a killer. I can’t imagine how.But I can’t wait to tune in again.

Video

A Hilarious Take-Off!

I wonder if Anne Hathaway’s seen THIS!?!

The last line is “Anne with an ‘E’.”

SAG Awards ~ A Summation

SO I watched “Downton Abbey” Episode 4 and I’m soooo glad I did! OMG! OMG! Can’t reveal anything now, but it is just…well, WOW! Powerful…I’ll write about it later…OMG…

MEANWHILE back on TBS a very sick Jennifer Lawrence was winning Best Actress for “Silver Linings Playbook” which I missed. But “Downton” ended five minutes early, and so I turned from PBS back to TBS and saw a very suave and satisfied Daniel Day-Lewis ascending the stage amidst applause. He had just clearly won for “Lincoln.” He gave a nice speech. Guess he’s going to win his third Oscar after all…but THEN…

Jude Law came out, also not looking well, and he announced that the winner of the Best Ensemble Award was “ARGO!”!!!!!!! Soooo happy to hear that! After what I just went through on Episode 4 of “Downton” I needed a lift! And it was very moved when “Argo” won and Ben Affleck was soooooo happy! And I was happy for him. SAG has a heart. And they bought the “poor Ben” story as Oscar Goddess Sasha Stone called it in a great piece at http://www.awardsdaily.com

It was really one of the best pieces she’s written on this season.And she says that the winning Oscar story is now “poor Ben” and wow! Is she right-on about that!

But Poor Ben was Happy Ben onstage at the SAGS tonight. He was practically dancing! This means that “Argo,” which he was famously snubbed for Best Director for two weeks ago, is now most likely going to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It won the PGA last night, and now this BIG WIN from the Actor’s Guild! Outtasight! I was sooo happy for him!

And of course, check out the other Happy Man Jeff Wells, who I thought I saw fly over the moon, with this news which he writes VERY well about over at wwww.hollywood-elsewhere.com.

“Lincoln” was supposed to win this tonight, and yes, it did get two awards. Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for Tommy Lee Jones, who didn’t even show up.

I think four of these winners will repeat on Oscar night. “Argo” for Best Picture, Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress for “Les Miz”and Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor for “Lincoln.” Qu’venzhane Wallis is in the mix at the Oscars as she wasn’t tonight at the SAGS and neither was Emmanuelle Riva, BTW, for “Amour.” But Jennifer Lawrence has Harvey Weinstein behind her, and like Meryl Streep’s out-of-left-field win last year for “The Iron Lady,” he’ll do the same thing for Jennifer and she’s winning everything anyway. It’s a cake walk for him this year with Jennifer.

I think it’s safe to say that with Phillip Seymour Hoffman winning the BFCA award(Which he wasn’t there to pick up), Christophe Waltz winning the Golden Globe( which he WAS there to make a strange speech, with Tommie Lee Jones GLOWERING) then with Jones winning tonight at the SAGS and him NOT being there to accept, I think it’s safe to say that Supporting Actor is still a toss-up.

But everything else now seems locked down and sealed up “Argo”, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway.Done!

SAG Awards ~ Best Supp. Actor & Actress!

Best Male Actor in A Supporting Role! Bang! They’re getting right to it!Nicole Kidman in a black dress with a very weird top. Tommy Lee Jones! And he isn’t even there! I guess he had it after the Golden Globes when he lost to Christophe Waltz then scowled through the rest of the show so frighteningly he ended up being lampooned on Saturday Night Live.At last Lincoln won SOMEthing. And he’s not even there to pick it up! Means he thought he wasn’t going to.

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper announce the clip from “Silver Linings Playbook.” Jennifer doesn’t look well and seems very as I said subdued, a bit shaky.And PALE in the close-up.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role ~ ANNE HATHAWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nice speech. Humble. “I want to thank my mother for voting for me. Or she better’ve!”
Started with a bad joke “At Least I get dental” or something like that about dental.
Lovely cocktail dress with what looked like a hundred pinafores under it.Black, again, the color of the night. Sparkly. They didn’t get her on the E! Channel Pre-show, so I don’t know who the designer was but I’m sure we’ll be hearing about it for WEEKS!

She thanked her father “for marrying an actress and for bringing up an actress. It was a very dramatic household.” She was channeling Audrey Hepburn a bit, I thought. Or trying to. She seemed to get more applause and also cheers as Justin Timberlake in a very sharp suit read out the five nominees names out.

Two of the big awards within the first fifteen minutes! This has never happened before. Now they switch to the boring TV awards.

I’m torn between staying with this and not missing Ep.4 of “Downton Abbey”! I’ll stick with this I guess until nine.

Live-Blogging the SAG Awards!

Well, it’s begun. With watching the Red Carpet Pre-Show on E! with Guiliana Ransic. Jessica Chastain was wearing a scarlet Alexander McQueen with diamond jewelry by Harry Winston, and seemed bubbly, excited to be there, her gorgeous red hair, side-parted.

Jennifer Lawrence seemed a little subdued. She said she had “walking pneumonia” and told the frightened Guiliana that she was “highly contagious.” Then Guiliana made her put her bejeweled hand in their “Hand cam” saying that she had chubby fingers! She doesn’t.

Jennifer’s floor-length gown was a very serious black. Quiet compared to her usual bubbly self.Also rocking a side-part hair-style.

Marion Cotillard saying she has the flu. Marion and G complaining about the cold! In L.A.?!She was wearing a black and white Chanel classic couture.

Nicole Kidman with long, shoulder-length straight hair seemed to be having a good time with Ross Matthews! He was a bit hysterical being so close to a real diva. And she was just dealing with it. Like “When is he going to stop screaming?” How many times did he say “Oh My God, Nicole Kidman?”??? In such short interviews, you’ve got to make every second count.

Now he’s interviewing black actor Chris Tucker. He’s trying to get him to dance. “Jungle Love” Oy.

Hugh Jackman now with Guiliana, singing! Guiliana “You made my life!” They did a little duet.(She can’t sing. And Ross couldn’t dance.) Hugh is wearing a rock-star goatee. And also managed to mention that he’s a “married man” and waves again to his wife. He’s ALWAYS doing that!He said he stalked Tom Hooper for three months, calling him several times a day. I wonder if that was true….

A little earlier Amanda Seyfried was struggling with her black gown with that had a VERY long and heavy train. She said “I hope ‘Les Miz” doesn’t win Best Ensemble or I’ll have to go up on the stage.” WHAT???? YOU DON’T WANT LES MIZ TO WIN?!?!?

Clare Danes with overly pale make-up with what looks like black lipstick. She’s nominated for TWO SAGs. But that Goth Girl make-up!Why? Is everybody wearing BLACK tonight?

“Argo” Wins The Producer’s Guild! WOW!

I predicted this! “Argo” just won the PGA! The Producer’s Guild Award! Which is the Award that “King’s Speech” won that signaled everything was turning around! WOW! Just WOW!

Congratulations to Ben Affleck and to producer George Clooney!
For “Lincoln” not to win this is HUGE!
This is all because the Director’s Branch of the Academy snubbed Ben Affleck, by not nominating him for Best Director! This means that yes, it will probably now win Best Picture, too! WOW!

My take-away from this…they just don’t like Steven Spielberg! Jeff Wells must be tap-dancing on the Moon! at www.hollywood-elsewhere.com

 

“Side Effects” ~ Gripping, pyschological thriller starring Rooney Mara & featuring Ann Dowd

I liked “Side Effects” the new, very serious, gripping psychological thriller starring Rooney Mara and Jude Law and featuring Ann Dowd as – wait for it- Channing Tatum’s mother!

Very fine acting work by all concerned and directed within a clinical inch of its’ life by Steven Soderbergh.

It’s sort of a medical thriller. And is all about pills, pills, pills. And this film examines, for perhaps the first time, just what the Side Effects of taking so much prescribed medication can be in our over-medicated society.

But who will go to see this very intelligent, thoughtful, dark drama/thriller? Who is the audience for this?This is a film about depression.

This is also the first leading film role for Rooney Mara away from and after “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and although that film established Rooney Mara as a star-in-the-making and got her an Oscar nomination, “Side Effects” will prove whether or not she really can open a film.

Does she have a following? Can she build up one?

She’s very, very good in this film, showing all the dark sides imaginable of her complex character and I found her compelling to watch. And Jude Law, who seems to be reveling in letting his good looks go, is very fine as the doctor-in-charge of Mara, his unruly and complicated patient.

It’s a great role for an actress, and there are so few of them. If this were opening later in the year, instead of the bone-grave-yard for films of January/February, I would think Mara would again be a candidate for a nomination.

But with a year to go til the next Oscar round-up, “Side Effects” has a long, long way to travel before Mara gets into the winner’s circle ~ AGAIN.

Ann Dowd also scores in this, too, in the minor role of a distraught, loving mother. I wish the part were larger, but she’s throughout the movie and she’s fine, fine, fine. With affectionate scenes and crying scenes and even a violent slapping scene. I only wish there were more of her.

There is more than enough of Katherine Zeta-Jones as Mara’s shrink previous to Law. Mara’s character, like Lisbeth Salander, seems to have been in therapy all her life.
And Zeta-Jones is merely serviceable.

But it has to be said that David Fincher’s prediction to Mara, as he was casting her, that an iconic role like Lisbeth Salander was going to throw a long, dark shadow over what ever else she did going forward in her acting career, and there are echoes and shades of Salander throughout “Side Effects.” Wrongful incarceration being main among them. However in “Side Effects” Mara is grappling with depression, all types of it. Whereas Lisbeth Salander, I don’t think was EVER depressed. Merely anti-social and ANGRY.

I think she’s as good as she could possibly be in this role under Steven Soderbergh’s astute, clinical direction, but as good as “Side Effects” is…it recalls how much better Steig Larsson’s millennium Trilogy was at this kind of thing. Soderberg’s washed-out bluish palette makes New York City look almost like Sweden in “Side Effects,” and just as depressing. I liked it. But not as much as I liked “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

SAG Awards and PGA this weekend! Predictions!

It’s a big weekend in the Awards Calendar as Oscar draws ever nearer… The PGA (The Producers Guild of America) announces who they picked as Best Picture of 2012 on Sat. And as if that weren’t enough excitement on Sunday, we have the always exciting, always misleading SAG Awards. The Screen Actors Guild.

Some of the members of these guilds are in the Academy. A lot of them. But more importantly the producers have a list of ten. The Oscar only nominated nine. And while the producers picked “Skyfall”, the Academy didn’t and dropped “Moonrise Kingdom” but picked up “Amour.” But even MORE importantly they use a preferential ballot, which is what the Oscars do with Best Picture. But ONLY Best Picture.

Every other Oscar category is by a simple majority. IOW, whoever gets the most votes wins.

The Prefentials Ballot is Sooooo complicated I will defer to Oscar Goddess Sasha Stone at the superior and ever-essential http://www.awardsdaily.com to let her and the great Steve Pond of http://www.thewrap.com explain THAT particular kettles of thorns.

I’m mixing metaphors, but I don’t mince words.

So IOW the Producer’s Guild with its large voting body is more of an approximate cross-section of the Academy’s. So whoever they choose as their winner on Sat. may very well tell the tale of who or what is going to win Best Picture.

And I think, like the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Broadcast Film Critics that they are going to go with “Argo.” Ben Affleck who was notoriously snubbed by the Academy for Best Director, as was Katheryn Bigelow, is riding high right now on a wave of monumental sympathy for this snub. And the PGA may very well correct this.

The SAGs, being a mass of many thousands of actors, is a little harder to predict correctly. They follow their own star. I would like to think that my personal favorite “Les Miserables” may pull a surprise upset here and win their Best Ensemble award. Best Ensemble is the SAGs way of saying Best Picture. And “Les Mis” certainly had a great ensemble, in my book.

I would love to see Hugh Jackman win for “Les Miserables” and best Daniel Day-Lewis for his boring performance in the bore-to-end-all-bores “Lincoln.” “Lincoln” has the most nominations across all these awards bodies and consistently lost. To “Argo”!

All the controversy that is still swirling around “Zero Dark Thirty” is going to make it very hard to win ANYTHING I think. Coupled with the fact that I don’t think Sony sent out that screener to the voting membership of SAG. Sony is also losing its’ headquarter building in Manhattan. 550 Madison. The beautiful Phillip Johnson-designed stunner that once-upon-a-time was the AT&T building. They’ve got bigger problems, obviously, then sorting out ZDT’s Awards’ chances.

Which I think is going to leave Jessica Chastain out in the cold.

Losing to most likely Jennifer Lawrence in”Silver Linings Playbook”, if Harvey Weinstein has his way. Or to Naomi Watts, if he doesn’t.

I think HW WILL prevail in the Best Supporting Actor category with Robert DeNiro, who has never won a SAG award, believe it or not.(His best work pre-dates SAGs Awards) And that would be also for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Are we seeing a pattern form here?

And lastly Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress for “Les Miserabales” is as locked as Christopher Plummer was last year for HIS first ever Oscar win at age 82 for “Beginners.”

Best Ensemble ~ I HOPE it’s “Les Mis” but it just might be “Argo” like the BFCA and the Golden Globes, or it could be “Silver Linings Playbook.” THAT one’s a real toss-up.

More predictive is the PGA on Sat.

Will I live-blog the SAGs on Sunday? Probably. Do check in.

Downtown Abbey, Season 3, Ep.3 ~ Recap & Review

“Downton Abbey” continues on as such a delectable television delight that I just feel compelled to write about it again! Right now! And this will contain spoilers so if you don’t want to know what happened in Ep.3 last night, then DO NOT READ ONWARDS! SPOILER ALERT TO THE MAX!

Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, does not have cancer. Poor Lady Edith has rebounded remarkably well from her altar-side betrayal by the spineless Lord Strallin, and writes a letter to the London Times about British women getting the vote, and the episode ends with it being published!

Edith, it seems, is now an embryonic Suffragette, and we glimpse that this may be her character’s main focus from now on. And good for Edith!

When her older, beautiful sister, Lady Mary, tries to commiserate with Edith over her abandonment by Lord Strallin, Edith dismisses it with “that was horrid” and moves right on to the next topic! British Stiff Upper Lip philosophy in action! Which can be summarized as “Don’t talk about it, get on with it!” She’s doing as her grandmamma, the Dowager Countess told her, “Stop whining! And DO something!”

Her younger sister, the beauteous Lady Sybil, y’know, the one who “Married beneath her station” to the Irish Chauffeur, Tom Branson, has been stranded in Ireland as her hunky hubbie has fled from the country due to the start of the “The Irish War”,it seems he’s been instrumental in perpetrating, including the burning down of a castle of a family who was friends with the Crawleys, the Drumgooles.

The Dowager Countess Grantham otherwise known as Cousin Violet otherwise known as Dame Maggie Smith, puts it all in perspective with a “Thank goodness! That house was hideous!”

And her son, the Earl, promptly shuts her up.”Mother, please! You’re not helping matters any!”

But Tom Branson seems to have been directly involved in planning the conflagration and is now sought by the police and has had to flee the country in fear of his life, leaving his pregnant wife behind.

“How could you?” Lord Grantham exclaims!

Lady Sybil finally arrives unscathed, but now neither of them can leave Downton until their child is born, which means it will now be born British, not Irish, as father Tom wanted.

There has always been so much trouble in Ireland I just don’t know when one war begins there and another ends. The Troubles there really never ended until modern times.

And the pregnant Lady Sybil, and mainly Branson, are really the focal points of this episode, which is more of a place-holder than the last, explosive one. Although as you can see, there was plenty going on at Downton, always.

Meanwhile, below-stairs, the stalwart Anna is dismayed that her jailed husband Bates has stopped writing to her. And Bates, and we see him often in various prison situations, is equally disturbed that she has not written him, but the “bit of bother” in the jail is eventually resolved by the episode’s end with Anna going to bed with the packets of Bates’ dirty envelopes. Ah! How ineffably,painfully romantic!

Meanwhile, in another fast developing subplot, the fired housemaid Ethe Parks, who did not look like a major character at the start of her storyline in Season 2, now is taking more and more center stage as the Seasons wear on. She has become a prostitute and ends up going to Mrs. Crawley(the wonderful Penelope Wilton)for aid for herself and her little boy who has no father. She wrenchingly at last lets him go into the hands of the boy’s late, ne-er-do-well father’s parents, the Bryants, IOW, his grandparents, who are, of course, conveniently wealthy. And can make sure the boy goes “to the right schools” which is everything to these people in these times.

Penelope Wilton endeared herself forever to me by her memorable performance in this year “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” She was the dark character in that light film, the one who can’t change and just doesn’t like India.

But I digress. Mrs. Crawley or Cousin Isabelle, Matthew’s mother, is also aflame with righteous reformist zeal as she not only aids damaged-goods Ethel, but in the end takes her in, at least temporarily, as her house-maid.

Their housekeeper/cook, Mrs. Byrd is scandalized.”It is not part of my duties to wait on the likes of her.”!?!

Downstairs is also all lit up with the arrival of the sexiest new footman imaginable (played engagingly by Ed Speleers), who calls himself Jimmy, but whom Mr. Bates insists is now “James.” And suddenly we’re reminded that Thomas is gay, and yet ANOTHER sleeping-dog subplot is re-awakened, as we see Thomas’ eyes lighting up at the sign of comely Jimmy.

All the downstairs ladies like rock-star footman Jimmy, too, like the hapless Daisy, the lovelorn kitchen-maid who is in this Episode promoted to “Assistant Cook.” Mr. Bates urges Lord Grantham to get this staff “back up to snuff” as they were pre-War. And a sassy, new kitchen maid Ivy is hired, whom Daisy, of course, at first sight, doesn’t like one bit.

And Miss O’Brien, who is usually referred to in the butch-est of terms as “O’Brien,” is seen lurking about in the background wearing her darkest blacks as Thomas ogles the sexy Jimmy. Uh-oh! Not since the Wizard of Oz and Margaret Hamilton have we seen such a witch!Cue the hisses and boos every time she comes on!

And I can’t wait for the NEXT episode, next Sunday! 9pm!

Meanwhile, Episode 3 is now up on PBS.org, in case you missed it.

“Downton Abbey” is the best series on television right now. I don’t know HOW you can bear to miss it!

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