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Sensational, New Agatha Christie Bio by Laura Thompson, Pt.2


But I digress…Nobody EVAH writes about the wonderfully witty Ariadne Oliver character in Agatha Christie’s  oeuvre, so I thought I’d just fill you all in on how I felt. I loved that character. And Poirot and Miss Marple, too! And we’ve never seen a picture of an apple-munching Dame Agatha.

No. By no means is Laura Thompson’s meticulously researched and thoughtful book about  dotty, apple-munching Ariadne Oliver. It is securely focused on the elusive Dame Agatha Christie herself.

No one can explain how she was THAT prolific. She just seemed to never stop writing. And as she got older, she used to DICTATE her books into  a Dictaphone. Writing mysteries was essential to her as breathing. And as seemingly effortless.

Though as a single Mom after her divorce, she was forced to support herself. J. K. Rowling another prolific female British author, she, of the Harry Potter books comes to mind. Though Christie always had servants and was never on welfare as Rowling famously was.

Laura Thompson was allowed access by the Christie family to many notebooks and papers that have never before seen the light of day. It’s a treat for Christie lovers, and a triumph of a biography for Thompson. I can’t imagine anything being more thorough. “Agatha Christie: A mysterious Life” is exhaustively complete. And thoroughly researched, with end notes and footnotes galore.

Thompson interweaves episodes from the very secretive Christie’s life, as they appear, quite baldly in her prose. She never got over the break-up of her first marriage to the very handsome fighter pilot Archie Christie before WWI broke out.

Needing a Crying Wall, Christie seems to have poured her heart out in her Mary Westmacott books. Under a pseudonym, she could tell the truth. But actually I find the Westmacott books inferior reads to her bounty of mysteries. She needed the focus of a murder. She had a mind like a serial killer. And she just couldn’t stop writing. All her books Thompson reveals, are one way or another thinly disguised re-tellings of her break-up with the dashing rogue, Archie. Thompson posits that he is the barely cloaked villain in many, many of the stories. And all the violence she felt towards him, she took out on the page. Much to the delight of millions of readers.

Her difficult relationship with her only daughter Rosalind is gone into in great detail. Christie was an atrocious, absentee mother, and her daughter looked and sounded like her father. She didn’t take after her mother at all. Hard-headed, she became the businesswoman her flighty mother never was. And was in large part,  the  reluctant caretaker of her literary empire.

But it is Thompson’s tendresse and insight that spell-binds. She especially excels by slipping into the first person as Agatha herself recounts her doings during her infamous ten-day disappearance, which ended her first marriage, even though she didn’t want it to.

Hiding out under the guise of a “Mrs. Neale” at a Harrowgate Spa in 1926, the entire U.K. was out searching for the lost, “poor Mrs. Christie,” sure that Archie had done her in. Thompson reveals a never-before mentioned letter that Agatha wrote to Archie’s brother Campbell, telling them all where she was, but the letter seems to have gone astray and caused the ten-day ruckus that made her famous and made every book she subsequently wrote a best-seller.

It also ended her private life. Now forever a controversial public figure, by many who considered it a publicity stunt, Rosalind said “She ruined my father’s life.” The family all the while covered it as amnesia. 

And Thompson feels that this lingering bad taste of her “mysterious” disappearance may account for her lack of respect by many critics, while Thompson considers it a result of “Christie’s simple writing style.”

And a fan looking for a new Poirot or a new Miss Marple (her other great detective, an old lady who knits, no less) are more than going to find them popping up like real life figures as Christie goes through her trials and tribulations. For in Thompson’s skilled tellings, they WERE like real figures to her. And to us, her devoted, beguiled readers. “Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life” is a treasure to be bought and savored.

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“Gianni Versace” American Crime Story ~ 3 Spellbinding Episodes,# 4 Stumbles

FX’a American Crime Story “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is Must-See TV, whether you like it or not. I veer between awe that something this gay is on TV at all, and then sometimes I’m totally revolted by the horror of all those gruesome murders committed in the ’90s by one Andrew Cunanan. Who was Andrew Cunanan?

He was a hunky male hustler of very rich, usually very old gay men, culminating in his shooting Gianni Versace on the steps of his palatial mansion in South Beach. The violence is graphic beyond belief, for television, and the subject so horrible that it is amazing that it is so well done, that it glamorizes and turns everyone in it into some kind of stars.

Judith Light particularly shines as the wife of murder victim #4, Marilyn Miglin, the Home Shopping Network’s “Queen of Perfume.” She is in complete denial that her real estate mogul husband Lee, was gay. In fact, nearly all the victim’s families refuse to admit their murdered son or husband or father was in any way connected to Andrew Cunanan and the irony is their silence = death, and totally impedes the cross-country police investigation. Andrew Cunanan is the one whose life story is told here, and he is glamorized to the max, just like the life he always wanted to live, like his gay idol fashion designer Gianni Versace, whom he ultimately shot dead at point blank range. He’s like the Talented Mr. Ripley but without the talent. Darren Criss 2

Episodes I and 2 were kind of astounding, majorly helped by the presences of stars Penelope Cruz, Ricky Martin and Edgar Ramirez as Versace himself.Cruz magnetizes as Donatella Versace, his sister, who went on to run the fashion empire, but never learned English clearly. She doesn’t show up until a stupendously photographed entrance at the Miami airport, to crowds of paparazzi. Flash bulbs exploding and shooting at her like guns. She embodies the luxe jet set world we are going to be plunged into for Ep.1 & 2.

Judith Light carries the day and will probably win an Emmy for her brittle Home Shopping Network icon in Episode 3. She carries the glamour if not the Versaces with her, as the series shifts to a completely differently local, the Gold Coast of Chicago, where we are compelled to watch the unfolding horror of her super-rich, 72-year-old husband, being bound and gagged and bludgeoned to death by Cunanan,in a scene in their large garage that is stomach churning, and disturbing in its S&M implications.

Darren Criss is unforgettable as Cunanan himself, formerly of “Glee” where he had no challenges other than to sing and be cute. The cuteness factor is still there, but he spellbinds as the handsome gay boy toy who could kill you. Criss astounds with the length and breadth and depth of his range as he grasps every one of Cunanan’s multiple personalities, most of them evil, but at the same time commonplace.

Many have said that the “Why” of these deaths is not explained, but the answer is simple homophobia and the closet. And since it’s a NINE part series, we still have five more episodes to get into the “Why” Having just read Maureen Orth’s page-turner of a book on which this is based, I know what’s coming in the five remaining scenarios. If you want to know all read the book “Vulgar Flavors.” Ricky Martin, who is openly gay himself, plays Versace’s stricken lover, and is utterly refreshing in his candor(and his nudity) as he is the only one of the major characters who is NOT denying that he is gay.

Where I felt the series stumbled a bit was last night’s Episode 4, “The House by the Lake” where the scene again shifts, this time to Minneapolis, and a time when Andrew had people of his own age to relate to, to fall in love with and kill.

David Madson, “the great love of my love” is shown as a very weak soul. An award-winning young architect from a small town in the mid-west, Cunanan kills David Trail, their mutual friend, with a ball-peen hammer right in front of Madson(Cody Fern). Who he then semi-kidnaps for the rest of the week, then kills him when he tries to escape.
The motives are so murky here, and the writing, and Fern’s performance is no match for the star-studded cavalcade that we have seen heretofore.

But there are five more hour-plus episodes to work this all out. Next week, for instance, in Episode 5, we will be focusing on Victim #1 David Trail (Finn Wintrock).Finn Wintrock 1

Set in the ’90’s and brilliantly going backwards in time, it depicts the closeted forbidden loves and lusts of the gay world as it was then. Before gay marriage or any of the rights that we know today.

The police keep dismissing the deaths. as they find them. as merely “gay killings” and therefore of no importance. Until he kills Versace, and that is totally accurate in its’ mundane prejudice and horror.

If all these people only admitted to the homosexuality of the victims, the body count would never have risen so high and the clumsy devil that was  Andrew Cunanan, would’ve been caught right at the beginning.

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” has five remaining episodes that can be seen every week on Wednesdays on the FX channel.

I See “Three Billboards” for the 2nd Time! A Modern Masterpiece!

Even though today’s Oscar Nominations are carrying the elegiac headline “Martin McDonagh Snubbed for Directing Three Billboards,” I saw it again before all this happened, and had such an rapturous experience I had just had to write about it. AGAIN.You really DO have to see this film twice, at least,to get what is really going on in this incredibly rich, dense screenplay that McDonagh has graced us with. I found it soooo moving all over again. And perhaps this time, it was because I was looking at it from the perspective, that yes, this is a gay story. Or is it?

Finally, there was confirmation in the voice over that today’s Oscar Nominee for Best Supporting Actor, Woody Harrelson, writes in a letter to  Officer Dixon, at a very dramatic point in the story, which I won’t spoil here, except to say that Harrelson, as Officer Willoughby is saying that he knows that the angry, violent Dixon has spent time in jail, in his past and that the other prisoners are going to think at first that he’s “homophobic and will they be surprised!”

So McDonagh slips this rather crucial piece of information into the plot in a VERY understated way,  stealth to the max, and if you’ve missed it, you’ve missed it, and missed perhaps the most important point of the story. That this is not the story of a simple bigot. It’s the story of most of the red-neck south, and particulary of a confused, violent young man, who lives at home with his ancient alcoholic mother, who’s almost embalmed in gin, and he doesn’t like it one bit. He flirts with her in a jarring, but again, understated way, tousling her hair like he would another teenagers,

He’s totally confused and his youthful energy and rage knows no outlets, except beating up his prisoners, and he seems so randomly violent, at times you think that HE’s the killer of McDormand’s teenage daughter. You think that about Harrelson, too. Everyone is under suspicion in “Three Billboards.” And I didn’t notice the resemblance between McDormand and his mother’s character, with the close-cropped, dyed, blonde hair (pictured below). The actress who plays his mother so well is Riya May Atwood.

I found that last scene so incredibly moving. And it’s so, so simple. How can I explain it without spoiling the main dynamic of the film? Except to say that everything takes another amazing twist. And you really have to be ready for it. Dixon needs to find SOMEone to talk to, someone who understands his violent rages. And she does.

Seeing it twice, I was captivated. Are they villains? Are they murderers? Or could they be? And the acting by McDormand and Rockwell is mesmerizing and fine in the extreme. It’s a master class of understatement. They hypnotize you, as each hypnotize each other. Their acting is very, very rare indeed. It is off the charts.

She’s so bereft cannot cry. Her grief is ineffable. And her rage! Which fuels the movie with explosions literally and figuratively, that take the same form as Rockwell’s incomparable, terrifying outbursts, and I can’t wait to see it again!

May they all continue to be showered with Oscars!

And Still More SAG Live Blogging!Gary Oldman Wins ~Again!

Once again, the same performer wins the SAG award as has one the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice, Gary Oldman, for his incredibly distinguished Winston Churchhill in the Darkest Hour. This is all feeling a bit been there done that this year. Now, more so than ever. But Oldman’s was a truly transformative and amazingly accurate portrayal of the great British Statesman, who it is said saved the world from Hitler.

More SAG live-blogging! The Same People Keep Winning!

With Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney both winning the Supporting Actor awards tonight as they did last week at the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards last week, they have now both won all three main precursor awards leading up to the Big One = the Oscar.

It’s coming up in March, the Academy Awards night itself, but the nominations will be announced on Tuesday. Which ends the official Phase Two of the run-up to the main awards themselves and begins Phase One, which is what happens AFTER the actual nomination are announced. But the fact that these two marvelous performances, have now both won every award they possibly could win, before the Oscars themselves. 

Means that they are marching in lock-step to the Dolby pavilion.

Rita Moreno gave a funny introduction to her friend Morgan Freeman’s Lifetime Achievement Award. On a night supposedly honoring women, it should have been a woman they honored. I think Freeman knew that. He gave a VERY short speech and both got off the stage.

Live Blogging the SAG Awards 2018!!!

And now it’s finally here! It’s SAG time!The 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be handed out tonight in Hollywood and I’ll be here with you, dear readers, dear cineastes trying to capture as many moments as I can. For you to enjoy.

Most of the evening’s time will be spent honoring TV shows…There are only five main awards for film, which is what The Stephen Holt Show and its blog is all about movies, movies, movies. So we’ll skip the TV awards, shall we? And there are no male presenters tonight. No black dresses, as at the Golden Globe Awards. In a show of solidarity for the #Me,too and # Times Up movements.

Sam Rockwell, Frances McDorman and Woody Harrelson did introduce the first film clip of those five films nominated for Best Ensemble, “Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing, Missouri.” They are a trio who get along very well. Very comedic. Though the film is deadly serious. But with a deadly sense of humor. Frances, notoriously, fashion-adverse was wearing a sky- blue floor-length gown with kind of a shoulder-covering short cape.

Allison Janney, in a silver lame gown, with padded shoulders. Very elegant, and she thanked  co-star Margot Robbie who plays her ice-skating daughter.

Sam Rockwell wins Best Supporting Actor! Moving speech! “Those of you out there you are trying to be actors, hang in there! Woody Harrelson, I love you very much! Frances McDormand, you are a powerhouse!” He was so happy! He was just projecting happiness all over the room, and that there was so much of it, he would burst at any minute, he couldn’t contain all the joy he was feeling. A beautiful moment.

Sam and Allison also both won the Golden Globe and the Critic’s Choice Award in their categories. Looks like it’s going to be a “Three BillBoards” kind of night. This bodes very well for Frances McDormand in her category.Sam at SAGSam Rockwell acceptance speech SAG

 

 

My SAG 2018 Predictions

After much consideration, and I’m trying to be as simple as I can be, I think the key to this year’s SAG Awards predictions is as plain as the nose on my face. Or as plain as the nose on anyone’s face in Ebbing,Missouri. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is going to sweep and win all four of the categories it’s nominated for. The overwhelming performance of an angry, but not tear-stained, grieving mother Mildred will win Frances McDormand her second SAG award. The fierceness of her unforgiving fury will translate into universal acclaim  as she has already received., at 60, the Golden Globe for Best Actress Drama and the same at the Critics’ Choice Awards.And her co-star Sam Rockwell, as the confused small-town policeman, Deputy Dixon, who tries to help her solve the  seemingly unsolvable mystery of her daughter’s violent rape and death, will precede McDormand to the podium and win Best Supporting Actor. Both of them bumping into each other on their way to the Oscars.

And two of the a-fore-seen winners of the other two awards,  Gary Oldman as the definitive Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour” (Best Actor) and Allison Janney as Tonya Harding’s frightening mother in the surging “I, Tonya.” (Best Supporting Actress), both will win again.

The SAGS only give out few awards to film. Mostly, it’s television that is being awarded. And usually at the start of the show BANG! They announce one of the two  Supporting Awards. So tune in on time at 8pm tomorrow night at TNT and TBS (Check your local listings.) Or you might miss Sam winning! Hopefully, I’ll survive the suspense until Sunday night when once again, I will be live-blogging.

Their fourth nomination being the supposedly predictive Best Ensemble award. That’s the only one of “Three Billboards” four nominations that I’m a little bit shaky about. But I think it’s their night. They might not win the Oscar, but they’ll win this. It’s an actor’s actor movie. And the SAGs, lest me forget, are actors voting on actors. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing” is co–starring some of the greatest actors of our time. Woody Harrleson, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges are among the long list of its’ sterling ensemble.

“The Shape of Water” can’t win because it wasn’t nominated.

It could easily go to one of the other films. I would automatically say “Lady Bird,” but that got shut out surprisingly at the Critics last week! What? What? But I’ll put my pen down for the night, and just wish all of them good luck on Sunday!

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