a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for the ‘Foreign Films’ Category

Real Treat for Hitchcock Fans! 2 Early Films w/Ivor Novello on Criterion

A luscious, real treat for fans of Alfred Hitchock and for those of you who adore the Silent Film star Ivor Novello! “The Lodger” and “Downhill” are both out and in stores on DVD and Blu-Ray, and as usual the Criterion Collection has done a marvelous job of putting together a 2 DVD Special Features Edition.

Ivor Novello was the British/Welsh Rudolph Valentino of his day. A heart-throb, a matinee idol and a silent film star, he was right up there as a composer, too. He wrote most famously “Keep the Home Fires Burning” as a World War I anthem and many, many more songs as well as  full-length musicals. He is even portrayed in Julian Fellowes’ “Gosford Park” by Jeremy Northam. Fellowes has also written a biography of him. He was gay but, of course, closeted, for those times didn’t allow him to say what he was, but he had a male lover Bobbie Andrews, who he lived with for all his life. And he had notorious liasons with Noel Coward, and even Winston Churchhill.

When asked what it was like Churchill supposedly replied, “Musical.”

None of this information of course, is included in the Criterion Collection, but I thought you all dear readers, dear cineastes, would like to know what all the fuss was about in the 1920s.

“The Lodger” was Hitchcock’s break-out movie in 1927 and Novello was its’ star. In audio interviews on the “Supplements” with Francois Truffaut(1962) and Peter Bogdonvich(1963 and ’72), Hitchcock makes no bones about how he felt working with Novello. As the biggest star of the day, Hitchcock, who was unknown at the time, HAD to use him, and use him he did.

Novello gives an uber-creepy portrayal of the lodger, who just might be Jack the Ripper. Because of Novello’s immense popularity at the time, he could not be a villain. So Hitchcock played it right on the knife-edge, where he was so often going to keep his audience for the rest of his career. Was he guilty or was he innocent? You don’t know til the end of the film.

And for those cinephiles who remember the famous opening close-up of Grace Kelly coming in to plant a big, wet, sloppy one on James Stewart in “Rear Window”, we see Novello in the same, intense, swoon-worthy pan into a frame (see above, top) where Novello seems to be about to kiss the audience. That zooming shot made me question if Hitchcock was not gay after all. Well, he certainly never acted it out. But in that shot, and how lovingly he treats Novello, though he was “stuck with him” in order to advance his career, it’s clear that he also had great affection for Novello’s helping making him (Hitchcock) a star-director with “The Lodger.”

And “Downhill,” the other included film, also from 1927, shows that Novello felt strongly enough about what Hitch was doing for HIM, that he let Hitch direct, this second film, which Novello also wrote, about a college boy, who is wrongly accused of a flirtation (or more) with a shop girl, and is expelled from his Eton-like school, and his life goes downhill from there. Included in “Downhill” which is not a thriller or a mystery, there’s a great shot of Novello descending an escalator on the London underground, going down, down, down.

The 2K digital restoration has a marvelous, eerie score by Neil Brand, performed by the Orchestra of St. Paul’s. And an informative interview of the challenges he faced creating the scores for both these silent films, which I’m so grateful to Criterion was presenting us with in this sparkling manner.

#Alfred Hitchcock, #Ivor Novello, #The Lodger, #Downhill, #Silent Film

Advertisements

Marcel Pagnol’s Incredible “Marseilles Trilogy” now Delicious Boxed Set on Criterion

What a delicious, French, binge-watching treat is ahead for all those Francophiles out there, cineastes all, who may not yet be familiar with one of the seminal works of French cinema! It’s the maestro of maestros Marcel Pagnol’s magnificent “Marseilles Trilogy”. Critierion is now issuing a delicieux boxed set of all three films, “Marius”, “Fanny” and “Cesar,” plus a hefty “Supplementaire” disc and book, so by the end of enjoying this summertime delight, you, too, can feel you really ARE on the French Riviera, albeit in the 1930s and in black and white.

Over the course of the three, two hour-plus films, we become enthralled with the star-crossed love story of Marius and Fanny, as their thwarted tempestuous amour fou echoes down the generations of this vivid-cross-section of French MIDI life.  The MIDI of France is the southern part. And the accents and the behavior of Les Marseilliase are VERY different from the Parisiens up north. Even a character, Monsieur Brun, who is from Lyon, gets the raspberries for being stuck up and too bourgoise for the VERY working class souls who frequent Cesar’s Cafe de la Marin, where much of the action takes place and his dreamer of a son, Marius works for him as a bartender/waiter.

The larger than life Cesar is played to perfection by the legendary Raimu, who Orson Welles described as “the greatest actor of our time.” Coming from the music halls and burlesque world of the MIDI, Pagnol really “discovered” him by making him the central character of the Trilogy, and also giving him one of the greatest roles of his, or anyone’s lifetime. Sort of a French Jackie Gleason, he mesmerizes whether he is shouting at his wayward son Marius (Pierre Fresnay) or trying to placate the confused young Fanny (Orane Demazis). He dominates all he surveys.

The dashing Fresnay ( he pronounced it “Fray-nay”) became quite the huge French movie star after the incredible success of “Marius.” The great Raimu was worried about him, as Marius, though, because he was the only lead actor from “the North.” He was Alsatian. But Fresnay was a total perfectionist and studied the quirky Marseilles accent for months.

When the cast was rehearsing, he was missing for three weeks, says Pagnol, in an interview, chuckling at the memory. Fresnay was working as a waiter at a sea-side bar in Marseilles, just like his romantic character, who is torn between his love for the sea and for his Fanny. His Marius is totally believable and moving in every aspect. “I knew he would be great in the role, and he was!” says Pagnol smiling.

And Fresnay’s accent is perfection. I couldn’t tell. Sir Alec Guiness called him his “Favorite Actor.”Marseilles Post Card

Pagnol was the great pioneer of location shooting, so we become VERY familiar with the grande charme of Marseilles, here depicted as a fishing town that is growing and growing into the thriving seaport it would become. That Pagnol loved his home town and the brilliant actors and technicians all from the South of France is evident in every frame. He is the one who revealed them all to the world for the first time. People were stunned that there were such good actors from “the South” and that not all the talent in France was concentrated in Paris!

I was lucky enough to be in La Belle Marseilles once myself. When in the early ’80s I was actually at the Cannes Film Festival with a movie I was actually IN with Divine.(I was Miss Bronx) It was Andrew Logan’s “Alternative Miss World” and still ranks as my only feature film.

ANYwho- I lost my passport and had to go to the American Embassy in Marseilles which was a delightful train ride along the Riveria. I still remember the beautiful sunshine and the smell of the sea. Marseilles is really the seaport town to end all seaport towns. I remember the subway stop having a fish-tank/aquarium set beautifully right into the blue mosaic-tiled wall of the subway station. I had bouillabaisse for lunch. And I still remember it as being the best bouillabaisse I ever ate! Bien sur! It was in Marseilles!

Though this 4-disc + booklet box of joy is complete in every aspect of Pagnol’s incredible work, and Fresay and Raimu both get more than their due, I thought it odd that the petite jeune fille, Orane Demazis who played the heroine , Fanny, in this tres masculine world, was all but completely ignored. Turns out she was Pagnol’s mistress who actually bore him a child during the making of “Marius” and “Fanny”! How totally French!Marseilles Trilogy 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movies That Shouldn’t Be Made into Musicals “Ground Hog Day” & “Amelie”


If you think you’re seeing double, you’ll be seeing triple and quadruple in the current mish-mash that is passing as a hit musical from London, “Ground Hog Day.” I have to say that if you haven’t seen the 1993 Bill Murray movie set in Puxitawney, PA., you’re really out of luck. Because this musical doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.. But, so I’m told,  if you’ve seen the movie, it does. Otherwise, it’s a godawful mess. Or is it? Or is that EXACTLY what it’s supposed to be? Utterly and immensely confusing, like it’s central character, Phil, a TV weather person, played very engagingly by the swaggering Andy Karl.Ground Hog Day 3

But don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Andy Karl, having seen him long ago as one of the five “Altar Boyz” Off Broadway. He was the muscle- bound one and he continued in that vein with the tremendous performance he gave in “Rocky:The Musical” which I just loved. But audiences didn’t. I thought it was a real lollapalooza and Karl gave a knock-out performance as the iconic Rocky Balboa, made famous by Sylvester Stallone. Yes, he sang, danced AND boxed his heart out in “Rocky.”Andy Karl Rocky 1

Then he had the colossal bad luck of dislocating his ACL in previews for “Ground Hog Day,” and now has become something of a Broadway legend and also, believe it or not, a front-runner for the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, because despite performing in a black knee brace, he went on!

They should re-label “Ground Hog  Day” as “Andy Karl MUST GO ON!”

In the great theatrical tradition, nothing could stop him from giving this powerhouse, but utterly confusing performance.” Obviously in pain, he went bravely forward, over and over and over again, as the repetitious “Ground Hog Day”, a science-fiction musical if ever there was one, repeats and repeats and repeats itself. With Karl leading the charge, injured though he is, and with his knee brace clearly showing (he’s in his underwear a lot, as usual. And thank god for those terrific thighs!).

And audiences are going wild.

“Ground Hog Day” will have to run on fans of the movie, and perhaps, garbled and senseless (to me, a non-believer) as it was, that’s what audiences are craving these dark days in our country’s history. A feel-good, only partially funny, gigantic musical that makes no sense whatsoever. The world has gone mad in Puxitawney, Pa, and that’s the plot, such as it is.  Puxitawney is where the famous Puxitawney Phil, the ground hog who if he doesn’t see his shadow when he peaks of his hole in the ground means we’re getting six more weeks of winter. As far as I could tell, he didn’t see it. Thank god, it’s really now spring in NYC!

So, it’s Feb. 2nd and time and Ground Hog Day itself, keep repeating, repeating and repeating  in our beleaguered hero’s brain, while those townsfolk around him make merry and march and re-march and re-march. There is no end to those parading Pennsylvanians!

The music itself is also not much of anything. Tim Minchin who debuted so powerfully a few seasons back with the wonderful “Matilda”, here goes backward in time to really forgettable music and lyrics that seemed to be in a time-warp of their’ own, as if the magical “Matilda” had never happened.

And since this show was generated out of Australia, the small town PA. people are REALLY cartoons of what Pennsylvanians are like. Whatever they are, Pennsylvanians are not singing Australians, with bad American accents. And so the nightmarish cartoon juggernaut that is “Ground Hog Day” continues to roll over and distort and distort and re-distort everything in its’ path.

The Bill Murray movie couldn’t be this non-funny or garish. Oh, yes, and there aren’t any jokes. But there are lots of flying sets, one of which injured Andy Karl and may have won him a Tony. He deserved it for “Rocky,” but not for this mess.

And no, I’m not going to find the movie of “Ground Gog Day” and now watch it just to make sense of this gob-bil-di-gook. It would be just too painful. And I’m sure not funny, after what I’ve just been through with “Ground Hog Day:The Musical.” It’s like a night-mare you want to forget.

And “Amelie”! I hate to say anything negative about “Amelie”. It’s like kicking a kitten. I saw this French language movie, and I didn’t like it ,and can’t remember anything about it, except that Audrey Tautou is endlessly cute, and became a French icon of the ages. And I never could understand why. But there, like the Eifel Tower, she stands. Starring in French films of wildly varying quality. But an American musical?

And not casting a French girl in the lead? New York is NOT Paris, and good as she was in the original Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet” off-Broadway in the circus tent, and Tony-nominated for “Hamilton,” as his hapless wife, Eliza, Phillipa Soo never had to utter a single word of dialogue. Both these great early successes for the now 26-year-old Soo were wordless, sung-through pop-operas and boy, can she sing!

She possesses one of the great powerhouse voices, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her over and over and over again on the CDs of “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” But here in “Amelie:The Musical” with REAMS of trite, banalities to make cute, piquant, quixotic and adorable, she’s utterly at sea. She’s at a loss with no script OR music to bolster her as she had both so memorably in “Natasha, Pierre” and “Hamilton.” I wonder if it will even last until the Awards are handed out in June? Somehow, I doubt it. And I’m a Francophile.

“La La Land” Wins Both Music Awards, “Manchester” wins Best Original Screenplay

city-of-stars“La La Land” wins two more making four so far. Best Song “City of Stars” and Best Score. And now Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are presenting Best Original Screenplay. I hope it’s “Manchester by the Sea”!

And It is!!!!!

casey-lucasTHRILLING!!!!

And “Moonlight” wins Best Adapted Screenplay.  Lots of Applause. A very popular choice. And it’s a Gay Movie. Who woulda thunk it?

It’s won two. The same as “Hacksaw Ridge”. Now the big awards are upon us.

Halle Berry, looking younger than ever, but with an awful Afro, giving out Best Director.

Damien Chazelle, the youngest Best Director in Oscar history, just won Best Director. So that’s five so far. It’s only going to win two more, if I’m right Actress and Picture.

First time an American director has won in YEARS, believe it or not.

 

 

Producers Guild Announces Their Nominations

manchester-by-the-sea-8The Producers Guild has just announced its’ all-important ten nominations. They are listed below alphabetically. And it’s interesting to note that “Silence,” “Nocturnal Animals” and “Jackie” are completely left out. But a super-hero film like “Deadpool” is left IN.

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures:

 

  • Arrival

Producers: Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder, David Linde

 

  • Deadpool

Producers: Simon Kinberg, Ryan Reynolds, Lauren Shuler Donner

 

  • Fences

Producers: Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Todd Black

 

  • Hacksaw Ridge

Producers: Bill Mechanic, David Permut

 

  • Hell or High Water

Producers: Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn

 

  • Hidden Figures

Producers: Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin & Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, Theodore Melfi

 

  • La La Land

Producers: Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt

 

  • Lion

Producers: Emile Sherman & Iain Canning, Angie Fielder

 

  • Manchester By the Sea

Producers: Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck, Kevin Walsh

 

  • Moonlight

Producers: Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner & Jeremy Kleiner

 

La La Land Most Golden Globe Noms Seven!

la-la-land-8The Nomination announcement of the Golden Globe Awards always seems to me to be more important to The Race than the actual awards presentation themselves. THIS is the day when all the barriers are broken and all the gloves come off and the speculation just HAS to stop. Because well, we’re faced~ AT LAST~ with the actual participants in this Oscar saga. Or Awards saga, or what have you. NOW we know. With a historic SEVEN nominations for “La La Land” it is what has been rumored all along and I heartily concur, a great big fat solid award-winning hit!golden-globe-1

I loved it as I said the day before yesterday and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association loves it, too. And I’m so glad they did.

Sure, I feel sorry for the runner-up, the VERY deserving beautiful “Manchester by the Sea.” Of course, there’s a bias there, too. I love New England. Manchester by the Sea seems like a Cape Cod town not unlike Provincetown, with all the gay people removed. And in winter.

And yes, if that sounds depressing, it is. But it’s WONDERFULLY depressing. It’s THAT good a film. It may even be a great one, a classic. It’s GOOD depressing. It makes you think. It’s screenplay and director, both the great Kenneth Lonergan got nominated, and that’s very important.manchwarwe-by-the-sea-6

And it got nominated for Best Actor Casey Affleck, yes, him again. And Best Supporting Actress Michelle Williams, who will sadly lose in that category, if Viola Davis stays in that category.manchester-by-the-sea

Everything seems set in stone(though it’s not) once the Golden Globe nods are announced. THESE are the contenders, the people all the Oscarologists and Oscar strategists will have to bob and weave around. Yes, and SAG, too.

The Broadcast Film Critics moved their CEREMONY to last night and no one even knew it was on! So even though there was the strange upset of Emma Stone for Best Actress by Natalie Portman’s “Jackie,” it barely registered with the general public, which in this case means the Academy voters.jackie-tourBut it WAS noticeable because it was the only upset.

It will register with them the way that Isabelle Huppert’s three wins for Best Actress from the New York Film Critics, the LA Critics and the National Board of Review. As hardly a blip on the radar.

This season is going to now be all about “La La Land”s winning everything and whether or not that means Emma Stone loses to Natalie Portman. Emma will, of course, win in Best Actress Comedy or Musical and Portman will win in Best Actress Drama. Then what happens at the Oscars is anyone’s guess.

I know you’re all dying to know who actually WAS nominated for Best Actress, Drama, well, besides Portman it was Huppert, Amy Adams for “Arrival”, Jessica Chastain for “Miss Sloane” and the wonderful Ruth Negga for “Loving.” But the battle royal is shaping up between Emma Stone and Portman.

“Jackie” a film I loved personally and thought “How could the Academy deny this films’ greatness?” got only Portman as a main nominee. No screenplay. No director. No Best Picture. It WILL do much better at the Oscars. But compare the Golden Globe nods. “La La Land”s 7 to “Jackie”s 1.

Then of course, there’s the always unpredictable Supporting categories that suddenly seem to be the most predictable of all. Mahershala Ali wins for “Moonlight” and Viola Davis for “Fences.”

There was a serious lack of support for “Fences” too. Like “Jackie” it was surprisingly snubbed for Best Picture Drama, Best Director Denzel and Best Screenplay (by the late August Wilson). However, yes, Denzel did get ANOTHER Best Actor nod. But he and Viola were the only two from “Fences” which shocked me.

That will change come the Oscars, too. But it doesn’t have the myriad possibilities of nominations in the below-the-line categories that “La La Land” and also, unbelievably “Jackie” does.

And then what if the Academy decides, as it did so recently with Kate Winslet, to put Viola Davis not in Supporting, but lead for “Fences”?!?!? And why do I think they may just do that and who would get bumped out?fences-1

Taraji B. Henson already saw all the air go out of her tires this morning and only Octavia Spencer from “Hidden Figures” got in.

And it seems pre-ordained now that Mahersala and Viola will just march in lock step to the Oscars and Supporting duo winners(not from the same film) seem to keep doing. As recently as Lupita Nyongo and Jared Leto only three years ago,

If Viola had to break up the Natalie v. Emma log jam, I think she would win. Then Michelle Williams would win in Supporting for HER incredible performance in “Manchester by the Sea.”

We shall see…

For a list of the complete Golden Globe nominees go of course to http://www.awardsdaily.com

“La La Land” Sweeps Oscar Off His Feet. Emma Stone Will Win Best Actress!

la-la-land-1I must say, I resisted “La La Land” for the longest time imaginable. I, a musical comedy queen par excellence, just did not believe the hype, that this small scale musical(seems like there’s only two people in it) couldn’t with one fell swoop bring Musicals back to the movies? And go on to win Every Single Critics Best Picture Award in the book? And have a real shot at winning the Best Picture Oscar, too? And a singing and dancing Emma Stone was going to waltz her way to the Dobly Pavillion and dance off with her own Best Actress Oscar, too? Well, that’s exactly what happened. To this film with the ridiculous title. It’s winning everything.

And I finally saw it and I fell in love with it.

Hard.la-la-land-2

Starring two of the most beautiful people in the world, the aforementioned Emma Stone and the dazzlingly handsome Ryan Gosling, they not only sing their way into your heart, they dance there, too! And Ryan Gosling turns out to be an ace jazz piano player, and plays all the film’s musical numbers himself. Yes! With his own real hands! Brilliant 32- year- old director, a Hollywood wunderkind, if ever there was one. Damien Chazelle might be dancing with more than one Oscar in his hands come Awards Night.

He’s done the impossible. He’s single=handedly brought musicals back to the movies, and he did it last year, too, with the astounding debut film “Whiplash.”

la-la-land-3Which, for all its’ dramatics, was really a musical too. About Jazz, again. And both films are going to go down in Hollywood history as will Stone, Gosling, and Mandy Moore the brilliant choreographer. And yes, there is a third part in this film, too, J.T. Simmons, the sadist drum-teacher of “Whiplash,” which won him an Oscar last year. Here he’s a uber-nasty manager of the nightclub of sorts that our Hero Sebastian, (Gosling) has been reduced to playing Christmas ditties in.

“La La Land” is the perfect film. For this year. It’s total escapism, and that’s what we all need right now. It just seems impossibly wonderful and harks back to all the great Movie Musicals of the 1930 through ’50s.

Being a song and dance man myself (I’ve also written MANY musicals myself, way back when, and an opera, too), I know what Seb (as she calls Gosling) and Mia(Stone) are going through. And it’s total rejection almost all the time. That’s Show Biz. And that’s particularly LA, where I lived for one year, and wondered how the dreams were manufactured that got me there.

“La La Land” is a love poem to LA. And I have never seen it look so gorgeous. The cinematography is candy coated and Ms. Stone wears bold, single colored costumes. After a particularly brutal audition experience, she walks sadly down pinkish Hollywood streets in a royal  blue dress. She later wears a solid yellow. Redheads are NEVER supposed to wear yellow, but Stone does, and she’s forever going to be associated with the “little yellow dress” that she’s seen dancing with Gosling as he falls in love with her.la-la-land-4 la-la-land-5

Oh yes, Stone is playing the ultimate Aspiring LA Actress. She’s so frustrated, she starts writing her own play, a one woman show for herself. I can related. I’ve done that, too. And she doubles her despair by becoming a playwright/actress.

And she doesn’t understand or “get” jazz. So. of course, she’s at cross-purposes with Seb, because he’s the ultimate jazz aficionado, who wants to own his own jazz club some day. She wants to be a star. And somehow, through the magic of movies, they find each other and fall predictably in love, but not toooo predictably.la-la-land-6

“La La Land” starts with a massive traffic jam on a highway(some things never change. I hate cars. I hate smog. And I hated LA until I saw this lovely picture.) The entire stalled group of honking horns and frustrated drivers then inexplicably burst into song and dance. “Another Day of Sun,” which I found a bit much. Seb and Mia don’t sing and dance here. He honks his horn at her. She gives him the finger, and drives off. This I could relate to.la-la-land-7

But “La La Land” is a slow burn. It’s takes it’s time getting to where it wants to go, but boy, oh boy, when it gets there, it just KILLS you. I just couldn’t stop the tears. And in this last part of the movie, Emma Stone goes from being just Emma Stone, who we’ve now seen for years, the almost garden variety movie ingenue doing almost the same raspy-voiced, big-eyed schtick, suddenly transforms into the great Screen Goddess we all hoped she would be, and she turns into an actress of such unexpected depth and poignancy, as well as beauty, that glows like uranium, or more accurately Oscar gold.

She’s Hollywood’s new Princess. The envelope, please.la-la-land-8

E.T.A. “La La Land” just led the pack with SEVEN Golden Globe nominations! More on this later.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: