a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for July, 2013

Oscar Chances of Cate Blanchett ~ Too much, too soon?

Oscar is such a fickle little devil. If the Academy Awards were held tomorrow, Cate Blanchett would win in a walk for “Blue Jasmine”, ANOTHER astonishing Woody Allen movie with an unforgettable performance by Cate the Great.

Plusses ~ All the rave reviews, and the staggering performance itself.

Minuses ~ All this Oscar brouhaha is WWWAAAY toooo soon in the Oscar season. Sony Pictures Classics has to keep “Blue Jasmine”, a rare, exotic flower blooming til the holidays.For a film that’s only playing now in two cities that’s no mean feat.

Minuses ~ Sony Pictures Classics is NOT the Weinstein Co.

If this were one of Harvey’s girls she WOULD win. Lest not forget that the last woman to win for an Oscar for a Woody film was the beauteous, unforgettable, explosive Penelope Cruz in “Vicki Cristina Barcelona” But that was a WEINSTEIN Co. release! You’ve GOTTA have Harvey…Sony Pictures classics is not known for nailing WINS. But nailing nominations, yes. See Emmanuelle Riva’s near miss last year for “Amour.” She got the nomination, yes, and some major critics’ awards,but…she lost to last year’s Harvey girl, Jennifer Lawrence.

Minuses ~ She’s playing Ruth Madoff

Plusses ~ She makes you LIKE her.

Plusses- It’s a complex, intelligent career-capping role that people will be talking about as long as they discuss Cate Blanchett.

Pluses ~ She had AN HOUR-long chat with Charlie Rose, who gave her the ENTIRE program.

Minuses ~ By the end of the hour, she and Charlie got soooo abstract and convoluted, they completely lost me. And I’m sure many others too. And Academy voters watch Charlie Rose like a hawk.

Minuses ~ She looks like she’ll be up against two OTHER Aussie homegirls, Nicole Kidman for “Grace of Monaco” playing the late Princess, who died tragically in an auto accident. AND that other wonderful Australian actress Naomi Watts in “Diana” about another blonde royal, the late Princess of Wales, who also dies tragically in an car crash. THREE Australian Best Actress nominees? WHEN has that ever happened before? And it is a good thing? Will they split the Australian vote? IS there an Australian vote?

Minuses – Meryl Streep will very likely be nominated for the vicious, drug-addicted mother who you love to hate in “August: Osage County.” a Weinstein Co. production that’s heading straight to the Toronto Film Festival, as are “Grace” and “Diana”. This would leave Meryl the only American actress in this category, although she already has THREE other Oscars. The fifth slot I’m guessing is going to Berenice Bejo for “The Past” ANOTHER of Harvey’s films. And she would be in the now traditional French actress slot. We see it every year now. This film will also be at Toronto…Or it could be ANOTHER French actress Julie Delpy, who stars in and who also co-wrote the “Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” trilogy. She was nominated before for a Best Screenplay. And Berenice Bejo was also previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for “The Artist.”

And of course, we must not forget the Babe Factor. The pretty young thing who sweeps in from seemingly nowhere and makes the Academy of collective Old White Rich Men fall in love with her and takes the prize, again, like Jennifer Lawrence did last year. This could be the surprising and gorgeous American Beauty Amanda Seyfried who unbelievably breaks your heart as Linda Lovelace in “Lovelace.” And Radius is behind “Lovelace” which is Harvey Weinstein’s Co., too.

<So LOOK OUT!

A completely empty playing field is going to be SLAMMED in about a month’s time by alllll these female centric movies playing at TIFF and also, some of them at Telluride.

Will I get to TIFF this year to talk to all these great ladies? I hope so. I’m trying my hardest, but I’ll certainly be seeing all four of these acclaimed-already, buzzed-about movies…

So Cate the Great AND especially Sony Pictures Classics REALLY have their work cut out for them.

Cate already has an Oscar. But then so does Nicole and Meryl has three.

It’s Cate’s to lose, as they say. But SPC has a history of stumbling at the end game.

It could be Cate, but…

 

Unfortunately, we did not meet our Kickstarter goal.

Yes, dear readers, dear cineastes, we unfortunately did not mee our Kickstarter goal. Yesterday it closed down at noon and so now what happens? Well, first of all all the backers receive their money back. OR similarly, Kickstarter just doesn’t bill them. And also, let me thank sincerely those intrepid souls who DID contibute. Your belief in my show and my hoped-for trip to TIFF’13 is incredibly touching.

Thirteen people backed this and you know who you are so thank you. 

I’ve been given the first two nights by Ontario Tourism. It’s my dream destination. The Fairmount Royal York in downtown Toronto, directly across from the main train station where all trains come into Toronto.

I’ll be arriving via VIA rail from the Montreal Film Festival, where I go first and the train station is right there, bang! Across the street from the Royal York. The Royal York is the incredibly oppulent Olde World-y, traditionally swank and British hotel where the Queen stays when she’s in TO. 

Been a life’s dream of mine. 

But it’s only the first two nights, Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday is the day I travel between the two great Canadian cities, with their great film festivals and Wednesday is the day you check-in before the film festival starts at the press office which just opens that day.

So then what? Do I just turn right around and go back home? Two nights is charming, but then…?

Only 49 hours to go on Kickstarter! Please help!

Here’s the link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stephenholttiff13/stephen-holt-show-6-toronto-film-fest-2013-30-mint

Video

Winona Ryder at the Waldorf! What could be more glamourous?

Winona Ryder! In an afteroon at the Waldorf? What could be more glamourous? Talking about “The Iceman” and film editing!

Only Five Days to Go on Kickstarter TIFF project!

There’s only five days to go on “The Stephen Holt Show”s Kickstarter project vis a via the Toronto Film Festival 2013! We’re nowhere near our goal. 

Here’s the link ~ http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stephenholttiff13/stephen-holt-show-6-toronto-film-fest-2013-30-mint

I hope you dear readers, dear cineastes all can help me get there! 

Cate Blanchett May Win Her Second Oscar for Woody Allen’s Superb “Blue Jasmine”!!!

Sound the trumpets! Ring the bells! Beat the drums! Huzzah! Huzzah! Woody Allen has done it again with “Blue Jasmine”! He’s completely surprised us! And gone in a whole new challenging direction and written the most complex dramatic role he’s ever written for a woman. It’s the title role in “Blue Jasmine” and Cate Blanchett gives the performance of her career as Jasmine, who is indeed quite blue. Blue in the sense of sad, if not tragic. But also beautiful.

For there’s is no such thing in nature as a blue jasmine, making Blanchett’s Jasmine as unique a cinematic flower as there ever was.

At a time when it seems women in leading roles were basically being banished from our movie screens, replaced by the endless parade of testosterone-filled, comic book/explosion-fueled films for teenaged boys,”Blue Jasmine” is a breathtaking antidote.It’s the real thing. A great actress in a great screen role.

Cate Blanchett is immediately iconic. Everything she’s done before or since will be compared to this.

“Blue Jasmine” is delightful and uplifting, though Jasmine’s story itself is really quite tragic, Blanchett’s towering performance and Allen’s best-ever writing, make “Blue Jasmine” soar.

Allen challenges us as an audience, and challenges Blanchett as an actress. And she meets every challenge, every single one of them, and surpasses and surprises expectations through her sheer force of her artistry.

Blanchett’s had a career of great performances, but nothing really touches her Blue Jasmine. It’s like the role she’s been waiting to play all her cinematic life. She has one Oscar already for playing Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s great bio-pic on Howard Hughes “The Aviator.”But that was for supporting. Jasmine is a triumphant lead. She could win her second Oscar here. And she’s certainly going to be nominated for Best Actress.

Oh, yes, and “Blue Jasmine” is NOT a comedy. In fact it’s pretty grim. It reminded me most of Allen’s 1980’s family drama “Interiors” which is where Allen showed us he could go to the dark side as well as any filmmaker. And surprisingly, he returns to that dark, inner landscape in “Blue Jasmine.”

Although it doesn’t look that way when it starts. So it’s a total surprise in that sense, confounding expectations, once again, Allen turns in something fresh and also real.

“Blue Jasmine” is filmed in sunny San Francisco, a location where Allen has never shot before. And it alternates with an equally sunny New York City, which seems bright and happy and beautiful,too, as you can feel Allen’s joy in returning to work in his own home town, a place he hasn’t shot in in years! But look out, dear readers, dear cineastes, all that Californian sunshine is going to get quite dark as the film goes on.

Allen wants to paint a portrait of a conflicted, complex woman. Almost Tennessee Williams-esque. It’s like he wanted to go a round or two with a Williams-like heroine at his story’s center, instead of a nebbishy male Allen stand-in, like Owen Wilson’s character in “Midnight in Paris” and many others playing Allen’s familiar neurotic tics and tacks. And Jasmine makes all the other heroines in his films, well, seem superficial or well, trivial. But of course they were all comedies. I’m thinking of YOU “Annie Hall” which won Best Picture and got Diane Keaton HER one and only Oscar. “Jasmine” is different in that it’s all Cate Blanchett’s show. And it isn’t really funny.

In fact, it’s downright slimy at times because Jasmine(real name Jeannette) is not an easy character to like, or even warm up to. She’s clearly patterned not only on William’s Blanche du Bois, but also Ruth Madoff!

Now I never really considered Ruth Madoff as tragic heroine. But Allen evidently does, as it seems he’s ripped this story right from the headlines. Jasmine’s ponzy schemer husband,Alec Baldwin hits exactly the right skeezy huckster note. You KNOW he’s the villain, but you see Jasmine is totally, blissfully unaware that her whole Park Avenue/Hamptons jet-setting life-style is going to come crashing down, but that’s exactly what happens.

HOW that happens would be spoiling the film, I feel, but I can say, she ends up taking refugee with her completely opposite plain-jane sister, Ginger, a wonderful Sally Hawkins, who lives modestly as a super-market bagger in San Francisco, which is what brings Jasmine to the Golden Gate City in the depths of her despair.

Allen, being Woody Allen, after all, does have quite of lot of comic fun,at first, with Jasmine’s plight, as she tries desperately to fit in with lower middle class society, even being reduced to being a receptionist for a horny dentist(a hilarious Michael Stuhlbarg) and popping Xanax like they were candy corn.

Hawkins’s Ginger has a lot to do here, comically and tragically, and she does it all in fine style. Shockingly she’s never been nominated for an Oscar yet. But “Blue Jasmine” could also do it for her, as it surely will for Cate Blanchett’s unforgettable Jasmine.

You have to struggle to like the difficult Jasmine. She’s not an easy woman to warm to as she makes mistake after mistake. But in that struggle lies the greatness of the film. Allen brings up complex, difficult questions about our consumerist society and the last shot of Cate Blanchett will haunt your dreams.

 

 

18 Hours of “Dragon Tattoo”! “The Girl Who Played With Fire” on Audio Books

If you’re REALLY into Steig Larson, and who, if you’re reading this blog, ISN’T, I guess I do have to recommend the 18 hour marathon I just experienced with the Audio Books version of “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” It’s the second book in his monumental Millenium Trilogy. A world-wide publishing success with film versions in Swedish and in English, and more on the way. We HOPE.

But in the meantime there’s this massive, and I mean MASSIVE 18 hour immersion into Larson and Sweden and most of all Lisbeth Salander available on Audio Books, read by one man and one man alone, the vocally versatile(he has to be) Simon Vance.He voices something like 100 different characters in the modern Swedish noir “War and Peace.”

Vance, a British actor who clearly speaks Swedish, pronounces the many, many location names in Larson’s fictional Sweden very lovingly. He’s British, so he choses to give Lisbeth Salander, a Cockney accent. Mikael Blomkvist,Larson’s hero,the intrepid, indefatigable Vance choose to speak with a British voice closer to his own.

His the Cockney Salander really floored me. Then I grew to like her, which is crucial for staying tuned for the full 18 hour version, which I unbelievably did.

It’s begun to be another frighteningly hot summer in New York and I have to think twice, if not three times about venturing out in this heat. It was better today, but by that time I’d finished the whole damn thing. It IS an endurance test for the reader, to be sure. It’s a dense book, and it’s an intense listen.

Noomi Rapace’s indelible Salander is impossible to put out of your mind when listening to this. She, of course, starred in of all three films of the Swedish cinema trilogy-to-end-all-trilogies, launching an international career in the process. Thank god! I was worried that she was going to get stuck with Lisbeth for the rest of her life, but she seems to have successfully dodged that bullet. She did get a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress, for the last of the three films, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” But she didn’t win.

Rooney Mara got an Oscar nomination to prove that she was just as good if not better in David Fincher’s film version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” two years ago.But she didn’t win either. So the Americans not having filmed the second book, one still pictures Noomi Rapace going through Lisbeth’s harrowing paces in listening to “The Girl Who Played With Fire.”

But a lot of the book is very different from the movie, and this is the book that is the best of the three, IMHO. Because Salander is in it the most. In fact, she’s front and center in the story of “The Girl Who Played with Fire.’

Listening to the bare bones of it, just as an audio experience, I was very conscious of parts of the book that I didn’t remember. In fact, the whole opening section in the Caribbean, where we find Lisbeth hiding out for chapters and chapters, ending in a climatic hurricane/tornado named Matilda, is not in the film at all.

Enough time had gone by so that I didn’t remember it clearly.But it’s there, and it grips you. Then there is a whole chapter section given almost entirely over to Furman’s theory of algebra, which I also didn’t remember, and clearly must’ve skipped over, as I had skipped over it on the disc.

But it does begin to build and it keeps you listening through all the dull police procedural details, and there are many. Mostly of course, as always, you care about Salander and want her to vanquish her various dastardly villains, like lawyer Nils Bjurman, who she was famously rapes and tattoos in Book One.

Well, he’s back, but not for long. Larsson had a real, solid, slimy villain in Advocat Bjurrman, the ultimate repulsive civil servant, who is really, as Salander tattoos on his quivering abdomen in Book,” I Am a Sadistic Pig and a Rapist.”

“The Girl Who Played with Fire”is concerned with an expose of the Russian sex/slave trade in young Slavic girls. Some of it is so sickening in its’ details that you do just want to turn off the DVD player. But I didn’t. And I had no intention of writing about it, but here I am telling all this to you.

It picks up tremendously in the second part. And of course the semi-tiresome Erika Berger, Salander’s rival for Blomkvist’s affections, and the editor of Millennium magazine, has so much more to do in book, it’s ridiculous.

In the American film, she was played by Robin Wright, and in the Swedish version by the great Lena Endre. Her flirtation with another publishing job in the middle of the whole Salander case remains a weird sub-plot.

It’s Larson straining to make that character of Erika Berger interesting, I suspect.

But she isn’t, much. Lisbeth Salander just towers over all the other characters. And try as he might, Larson couldn’t stop writing about her, and writing about her SO WELL that she jumps off the discs, as she jumped off the page and the films, into history.

I bet Larson, when he was writing the first book, did not expect or plan, for Lisbeth to so engulf him, and all his writing. She seems like a character that just took on a life of her own. She overwhelmed him, and us, and there was nothing he could do to stop her fascination to the reader and so he just went with it. Mikael Blomkvist was clearly meant to be the central character when the first book “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” started, but that soon changed. And the world is so glad it did. Mikael Blomkvist is a bit of a bore.

And I had forgotten details like her interest in micro-wave pizzas. And did not remember McDonald’s popping up so frequently in Stockholm.

And Blomkvist’s not having a car and relying on public transportation in Stockholm and in Sweden in general is an endearing trait.

And Larson’s having to introduce EVERY SINGLE ONE of Millenia magazine’s staff AND Dragan Armansky’s office staff, as well as all the police investigators is almost Tolstoyian in its’ mound of character details. But not many of them pop out as clearly defined.

The reader, the amazing Simon Vance, does very well with Dragan Armansky, Lisbeth’s loyal employer and also Office Bubble, or Bublansky, the Jewish cop who is heading the police here. Though admittedly they do sound similar. And when he gets to the aged Palmer Holgren, the former guardian of Salander, who is now in a nursing home and a recovering stroke victim, Vance really outdoes himself. Having to be intelligible and unintelligible at the same time.

My unexpected favorite scene in the Audio Book, was the fight between “The Blond Giant” Ronald Neiderman, the Brazilian celebrity/prize-fighter Paulo Roberto(who is evidently a real person!) and Miriam Wu, Salander’s half-Asian girl friend, who gets drawn into the police web, and ends up being kidnapped and mistaken for Salander. That chapter(or disc, in this case) seemed to me to contain Larson’s best, most gripping non-stop writing. I was frozen in place as I listened to it, and to Simon Vance’s terrific vocal acting out of all the parts.

It’s quite a time intensive endeavor. And I think the 18 hours I spent on listening to all 15 of the discs is longer than it took me to read the book in the first place. But it’s worth it.

It’s staying with me. And I can recommend to all you Steig/Salander-o-philes out there. Make the time and you’ll be surprised how intense and compelling it is all over again.

Provincetown Film Festival ’13 Wrap Up!

PROVINCETOWN FILM FESTIVAL 15th ANNIVERSARY Wrap-Up

Epstein/Friedman Triumph TWICE with Double Whammy of “Lovelace” &”The Battle of AMFAR” ~ Almodovar, “Fruitvale” and Divine also score

Oscar-winning documentary filmmakers Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman did the seemingly impossible at the 15th Anniversary of the Provincetown International Film Festival, which just wrapped. They opened this smart, exciting, essential & growing film festival with their first narrative feature film “Lovelace” about the ’70’s porn star Linda Lovelace of “Deep Throat” fame and followed it up with a terrific doc about the AIDS organization “The Battle of AMFAR.” Both were superb.

“Lovelace” was my favorite film of PIFF, boasting a surprising trio of Oscar-worthy performances from Amanda Seyfried (“Les Miz,””Mama Mia”) as Linda Lovelace herself,and Peter Sarsgaard (“An Education”) is incredibly believable in his tough-to-take role as Lovelace’s porn producer/husband Chuck Traynor. The triumvirate of great star turns is completed by an unrecognizable Sharon Stone as Lovelace’s hard-nosed Catholic mother. I never thought Seyfried had the dramatic chops, and I, like Harvey Weinstein I was told, did not realize that it was Sharon Stone as the mother, until the end credits rolled, and I nearly jumped out of my skin!

Stone has been nominated once before for “Casino”, but didn’t win, and now I think she will have another strong shot for sure, as Seyfried and Sarsgaard will, too, be up for Oscar consideration again. And this time, as a Best Supporting Actress, she could actually win. And neither Seyfried nor the worthy-as-hell, overdue Sarsgaard has ever been nominated either. Also, Radius the new Weinstein Co. off-shoot is repping this terrific film.

A biopic of a porn star? I didn’t think I’d like it, but “Lovelace” and Seyfried and Sarsgaard and filmmakers Epstein and Friedman draw you in utterly and make you CARE. And it’s funny, too, when it needs to be, and tragic as Lovelace’s story gets darker and darker. And with Harvey Weinstein in the mix behind them, look out!

“The Battle of AMFAR” is about the founders, the unlikely duo of research scientist Dr. Mathilde Krim and superstar-turned-activist Elizabeth Taylor. who joined forces to bring about a critical change in the perception of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1985. This terrific doc that sped by at a lightening pace was ALSO directed by Epstein and Friedman, who also directed “Lovelace”! Is there anything these two titans of cinema can’t do? It was definitely their time to shine at this year’s charming sea-side Festival.

The Weinstein Co. was also behind the laceratingly powerful racial drama “Fruitvale Station”, a true story about an innocent African American youth, 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who is wrongly slain by police on New Year’s Eve 2008. Unknown actor Michael B. Jordan has to carry virtually every scene of the film, and he does, but it is Oscar Winner Octavia Spenser(“The Help”) who outdoes herself here as Grant’s mother.

Grant is no plaster saint and his mother knows it. We are shown flashback scenes of Grant in prison, when his mother comes to visit and tells him she won’t be coming to see him anymore and refuses to hug him. We see her try to control her wild, pothead son, when he gets out, and she tries to keep him on the straight and narrow, and most monumentally, we see her grieving when he is shot-to-death by police. Octavia Spenser meets every challenge of this bravura, heart-breaking role that pulls out all the stops, and then some.

Having won both the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic film at 2013’s Sundance Film Festival, “Fruitvale Station”, the subway station where the tragedy occurs, seems primed to compete across the categories as last year’s Sundance favorite “Beasts of the Southern Wild” did. And with Harvey as its’ producer, you know it will be a significant player this awards season.

An enchanting Film Festival by the sea, picturesque Provincetown is surrounded on three sides by water, and boasted a particularly strong slate of docs this year, with “Casting By” about the late, great, legendary casting director Marion Dougherty. Who at one time, as Tom Donahue’s film amply illustrates, seemed to be running the film industry in the ’70s. Dougherty speaks for herself fortunately in many insightful interviews, where it is revealed that she single-handedly talked directors Peter Friedkin into casting Gene Hackman in “The French Connection” and also persuaded John Schlesinger to cast Jon Voight in “Midnight Cowboy”! Try to imagine those two films without those two great performances, both of which won Best Actor & Best Film. Dougherty became so powerful that she turned Casting which was a male-dominated field, into the female-centric one it is today, as she constantly hired women as her assistants. But Casting Director don’t get Oscars. They don’t even have their own category, even as Dougherty and others fought for accreditation. The all-powerful DGA wants to make sure the power stays with The Director and not The CASTING Director. If the public only knew! And “Casting By” at least shines a bright, benevolent light on this tricky situation.

Another doc that knocked my socks off was “I Am Divine” about the late drag performer and cult icon of John Waters’ films “Pink Flamingos”, “Female Trouble” and “Hairspray” among many others. Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz emphasizes what a good actor Divine was underneath all the make-up and gowns and that he was poised to have a substantial character as a male character actor when he died of a massive heart attack at age 40. Too young. Too soon. And like with the unlikely heroine of “Lovelace”, Schwarz makes you care about his too-chubby protagonist, who just couldn’t stop eating. Or acting. Or acting out.

Waters was there to speak about the film and his late star. Noting that when people said that they often saw Divine walking around Provincetown in kaftans back in the Day, Waters said, “That’s a lie! Divine took cabs!”

And last but not least there is Pedro Almodovar’s HILARIOUS new comedy “I’m So Excited!” which is already one of my favorite Almodovar films. The hottest ticket in one of the smallest theaters (The Art House 2), I had to line up in a Rush Line for AN HOUR before the film started! But I got in! And what a delight it was!

I don’t remember Almodovar doing such an out-and-out comedy since “Woman on the Verge…” or “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down”. Pedro, always a scamp as well as a camp, lets the bobby pins fall where they may as he lets his hair down in the wildest situation imaginable. A plane is stalled flying over Toledo, where it circles and circle and circles. The three tres gay male flight attendants have drugged all the passengers in coach and are left to entertain the first class passengers with campy numbers like “I’m So Excited”, which is a music video-like gem. Pedro could direct musicals, too, if he wanted. I couldn’t stop laughing!

Penelope Cruz and Antonia Banderas make hilarious brief cameo appearances at the beginning of the film. And I was particularly fond of returning Almodovar regular Lola Duenas, “Sole” Penelope’s illegal hair-dresser sister in “Volver”, as a wacky psychic who predicts that she’ll lose her virginity on this flight. What do you think? Hilarity ensues! Don’t miss it!

Video

Terence Stamp via Satellite from Hollywood!

We talk about his critically acclaimed performance in “An Unfinished Song” co-starring with Vanessa Redgrave. They play old age pensioners near the end of their lives. And Terence & I also talk about his “singing” all through the classic “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and he says lip-syncing, which he was doing so expertly in “Priscilla” was much more difficult than real singing.The fact that this is being brought out by the Weinstein Co. makes both Terence and Vanessa possible Oscar candidates.Since you can never underestimate Harvey Weinstein!

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