a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘The Heiress’

Oscar’s New “It” Girls ~Jennifer Lawrence V. Jessica Chastain

When it was announced last week that one of Oscar’s “It” Girls (last year’s version), was playing a leading role and not a supporting one, and was being campaigned as such, in the still-to-be-seen “Zero Dark Thirty,” the etherally beautiful redhead Jessica Chastain herself, it sent Oscarologists scrambling like frightened chickens.

Because OF COURSE the brilliant Chastain, who was a Supporting Actress nominee last year in “The Help”(she lost to cast member Octavia Spenser) was going to turn the Best Actress race upside down and shoot to the top of everyone’s list, again sight unseen. Well, wasn’t she?

Everybody and his brother it seems is trying to topple purported front-runner for “Silver Linings Playbook”, the Weinstein Co.s Oscar “It” girl and a former nominee for Best Actress for “Winter’s Bone”, Jennifer Lawrence.

It is said the equally beautiful Lawrence is so out in front of all other contenders this year at the tender age of 22, that all we who do this are left with is trying to figure who else will be nominated, not who will win in that coveted category. Jennifer Lawrence has already won this. So say ye pundits all.

St. Ann Thompson of http://www.indirewire.com Thompson on Hollywood says that Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook” is a “slam-dunk” Lawrence also tops the Gurus o’ Gold chart by double digits. Check them out at David Poland’s http://www.moviecitynews.com. She’s Numero Uno at http://www.Goldderby.com, too  . I saw “SLP” today and I have to admit, yup, I think they might all just be right.

Light as air and paper thin as a potato chip, for all its’ background setting of manic depression and mental hospitals, “Silver Linings Playbook”s Jennifer Lawrence won me over. In spite of myself. I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t “Get” her, but now I do. She’s the new Elizabeth Taylor.

She’s an incredibly beautiful and photogenic young woman with a slammin’ body. She’s big, too, in all the right places.At 5’9′,’statuesque would be a good way of putting it. Curvaceous. And you see, she makes everyone fall in love with her. And yes, that’s a list that now includes me. Until today, an ardent anti-fan.

In “Silver Linings Playbook,” she won me over. She didn’t have me at “Hello,” but by the end of this film, she had me. She’s moving. You come to care about her. It’s her, a not the male lead “The Hangover”s Bradley Cooper, who is the emotional center of this wacky, wonky, weird film.

She’s got timing on her side,too. Oscarologists call it “momentum.”

It’s ONCE AGAIN ” a weak year for Best Actresses.” Some say the front-runner is 8-year-old Qu’venzhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” And even though I have just been informed that she has indeed joined SAG, the disqualification of her from SAG Award voting consideration still, unfortunately, stands.

So Jennifer Lawrence’s massive lead still endures, and she’s VERY sympathetic in SLP. She’s poignant. She’s trying to get  Cooper’s Manic Depressive mess, Patrick, to fall in love with her, and what director/writer David O. Russell is also deftly doing is trying to get the audience,the WORLD to fall in love with her damaged widow and ex-sex-addict Tiffany. And it seems to be  working. Lawrence may be crowned in February, the new Queen of Hollywood.

“Silver Linings Playbook” won the Audience Award at Toronto and also the Hamptons Film Festivals. And the Weinstein Co. is seeing this as their major Oscar contender now that “The Master” has pretty much tanked all over the place.

The release date says everything about an Oscar seeking film. And Harvey Weinstein knows how to position his fillies JUST RIGHT. I thought that “The Master”s early Sept. bow was odd, to say the least.

And the still unseen “Django Unchained” is opening strangely late. On Christmas Day, no less. For a Quentin Tarantino civil war/revenge tale with a great deal of gore in store, that seems a bit late, too. And a bit odd.

But HW placed “Silver Linings Playbook” just right. Right in the middle of Oscar season’s Phase One. Which is RIGHT NOW. That should have told us everything. In fact, TWC has even moved its’ release date one week earlier. To NEXT week. And then it’s going wide. VERY wide.

In the end “Silver Linings Playbook” is a Rom Com. A very well done and starrily cast rom-com with Robert DeNiro,  even, as the hero’s OCD Dad. And it’s not much more than that. And it’s the old Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl story. Comedies and comedic performances like Lawrence’s don’t usually get the gold. Soubrettes don’t win Oscars. Or do they?

So therefore someone with gravitas, like the Juilliard-trained Jessica Chastain, it is thought, could sneak in with a last-minute serious role in a drama. Anthony Breznican, the new Oscar Analyst at EW, puts Jessica first and she’s even *gasp* on the COVER of their upcoming Holiday Preview Issue. And so is “Les Mis” and Bilbo Baggins and  Abraham Lincoln and Santa Claus.

So gentlemen, it looks like we have a contest brewing for Bactress.

Chastain’s the CIA operative, who for ten years drives the hunt to find and kill Osama Ben Laden. “Zero Dark Thirty” is the code name for this operation. And Katherine Bigelow, the first female director to ever have won an Oscar (for “The Hurt Locker” three years ago), is helming it. Marc Boal of “The Hurt Locker” did the screenplay and it’s film editor, is the same film editor who just edited “Argo” so stirringly. Is that good or bad? The trailers look AWFULLY similar to “Argo”s and in them Chastain utters not ONE WORD. Er,….Are they hiding something? Saving the best for last?

So of course this news is giving Oscarologists pause. Chastain was in a staggering SEVEN films last year. And her range is thought to be limitless. I have never seen her be anything less than brilliant.

Until last night when I saw “The Heiress” on Broadway and the role of the spinterish, repressed Catherine Sloper, defeated her roundly in the first act. Chastain, like Lawrence, is a great beauty, and both Chastain and Lawrence are well on their way to being screen legends.

Lawrence, in “The Hunger Games” raked in a total of something like $400 million this year, quite a feat for a franchise anchored on a woman.

But I just couldn’t buy Chastain as homely and socially awkward in the first act in the worst wig I’ve ever seen on a Broadway stage.”The Heiress” Act I was like a bad sitcom.

Cherry Jones on Bway in ’95 (she won a Tony) and Olivia de Havilland in the classic movie (she won an Oscar ) were too clearly in my mind. They really SEEMED plain. They weren’t ACTING plain. Plain is something you can’t act anyway. But in “The Heiress” Jessica Chastain unfortunately tries to do so. And that wig makes her look like a white Topsy.

However in the second act, when Catherine begins to transform, Chastain changes into a better wig, which helped her  step up her game and passably helped her redeem herself. But only just. She was totally believable by the chilling end of “The Heiress.”

Two time Tony Winner Judith Ivey stole the show as the pitty-pattiest of Aunts. And director Moises Kaufman’s all-over-the map direction directed everybody except Ivey in the wrong direction. Ivey had the Henry James style right and showed up everyone else as hollow or misguided.

Chastain also had no help at all from the men on stage with her, the usually reliable David Strathairn and the all-but-invisible “Downtown Abbey”s Dan Stevens. Strathairn seemed to be trying to make the necessary ogre of Catherine’s father, Dr. Sloper into someone nice and warm, almost like a tea-cozy. And Dan Stevens seemed to disappear into the furniture every time he appeared to enter .

On screen, Sir Ralph Richardson, in his greatest screen performance,, was frightening beyond belief as one of the most monstrous fathers in cinema history. And Montgomery Clift, in his movie debut, was unforgettable as the wastrel suitor, Morris Townsend. IOW, Chastain couldn’t carry his rangey leading role. Or did so just by the skin of her beautiful teeth.

Will her role in “Zero Dark Thirty” be strong enough to upset Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar Love Fest? Will dark drama trump light comedy?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Some Lights Go Back on, but the subways STILL are not all back.

Life in NYC post-Sandy is symbolized to me by that dangling, dislodged crane over W.57th St. It seems like everything here is dangling by a thread now. Nothing is certain anymore. You keep waiting for the next shoe, or crane, to drop. And there’s another storm coming this week!

The buses and subways are now back to charging fares. They are no longer free. I found that out the hard way when I went to return some items to the library today. Ouch! They should keep it free until ALLLLL of the subways are back! And a lot are not.

I would say it’s like 3/5s there. Lower Manhattan is still a frightening dead zone, though lights have come back on. But not the subways. Buses go down there at night, I understand, but I wouldn’t venture there. New York like this is scary enough in the daytime, nevermind at night.

But you do go stir crazy if you stay in too much. But going out with the weather turning colder than its’ been in a long time in NY,(we barely had a winter last year), if you’re not bundled up like an Eskimo, the chill winds can kill you.

Today the temperature kept dropping, and I had to go out, and go to the library cross town, as I said, then back uptown to the TV station to drop off this week’s “Stephen Holt Show” and that’s a long, cold walk, let me tell you.

And with W.57th STILL a danger zone, buses were being re-routed over to 9th Ave. from Fifth and Sixth and 7th…well, you get the picture.

Then they continue on back on their regular routes once they get past The Dangling Crane.
And who do I meet on the bus going back home, after dark, from the TV station? Well, one of my favorite British character actresses of all time Miriam Margoyles!

She was a particular favorite of mine from the many,many film and TV roles I saw here in when I lived in London in the 70s and now that I live here, I kept following her work.

She’s in town she told me “safe and warm on the Upper West Side” to do a two performance only stint of her one-woman show “Dickens Women” at the Morgan Library. It sounds delicious! And particularly with Madame Margoyles playing Dickens perfect-for-her eccentric characters.

Her voice is so deep and warm and resonant, the chill New York night didn’t seem so cold anymore. She told me she was on her way to see “The Heiress” starring Jessica Chastain on Broadway. And I told her I was also seeing it later this week.

I also took a wild guess and thought that she and Dame Helen Mirren might be very good friends. Same age. British. Acting royalty. AND THEY ARE!

I told Miriam that Dame Helen had just had great success the night before at the AFI film festival with “Hitchcock” which she didn’t know anything about.

“Oh, I love Helen! Don’t you? She’s a wonderful person!” and I concurred saying that I had interviewed her many times.

“And Sir Anthony Hopkins is playing Sir Alfred Hitchcock and Dame Helen is playing his wife,” I told her and she continued to enthuse.

“I’ve worked many times with both of them. They are both lovely people!”

I told her that people are thinking that they BOTH could get Oscar nominations.

And I told her is was worried about her play because the Morgan Library is in the “Dark” zone…er, I think…

And she said, “The Lights will be on by then!”

Actors! They keep this city buzzing!

On seeing “King’s Speech” again, Helena & Colin totally rule the screen

It’s suddenly spring in New York City, after a horribly snowy winter, which probably isn’t completely over yet, SUDDENLY we’re having a day in the mid-50s temperature-wise! You don’t even need a coat today!

Well, spring was certainly in my step when I decided to see a 10:25AM screening of “The King’s Speech” which I hadn’t seen since that first early 9AM screening. The first press screening on the first day of TIFF’10, this past September. I knew it was probably going to be very, very good. I mean, it had Harvey Weinstein behind it, and that star-studded British cast.

I just wasn’t ready to have my mind totally blown by the quiet brilliance of this masterful film. Which I  instinctually knew was an instant classic. And that Colin Firth’s performance was one of the greatest ones I would ever seen on-screen. His stuttering, reluctant King George VI is one of the great screen performances, and has been hailed as such with Firth winning every single Best Actor award on his way to the Oscar podium.

I had the privilege of being of being the first one to broach the Big O news to Colin Firth himself, AND Geoffrey Rush AND director Tom Hooper, that beastly hot September morn in Toronto. And you can see their more than startled reactions at www.youtube.com/StephenHoltSHow

On seeing it a second time so early in the morning, I wanted to make sure that I saw it with an attentive, quiet audience. Who laughed at the appropriate moments, and were crying at the end. Just like they did in Toronto. And this half-full, respectful audience applauded at the end, just like they did in Toronto. I stayed spell-bound, just like I had in Toronto, all through the end credits and the lovely Alexander Desplat piano melodies. I remember that TIFF audience of hardened critics were all spell-bound, too. It’s like they were rooted in their chairs, totally blown away by the simplicity and beauty of what they had just seen. Nobody left at TIFF, til the end credits were finished. Then there was thunderous applause. We had seen the best film of this year or any year. We had seen a mastepiece.

All great films are their own miracles. And I have to say that if you want to really enjoy evenings in this month TMC’s “31 Days of Oscar” is just one wonderful night of cinema after the other. I’ve seen “The Heiress,” “Mrs. Miniver”, “Forrest Gump”, “Marty”, “Gone With the Wind” and “Twelve Angry Men” in just the past 10 days! Magnificent films, all.

And “The King’s Speech” is right up there with them. Seeing Colin Firth’s utterly brilliant performance again, this time I was even more astounded at the levels of pain he reached. Every time that poor man had to open his mouth and say something,  the inner torment, the hell that man expressed each time he had to utter even the most mundane and simple of declarative sentences was shattering.

His George VI is coming unglued in nearly every scene. And Tom Hooper’s direction is equally masterful. Always capturing the era(the 1930s) as if it was a doc happening right before your eyes today.

When Colin Firth ended our career-high interview(for me anyway…He kept saying “I don’t want you to leave. I just don’t want you to leave.” But alas I had to…) he stood up to shake my hand and I was astonished that he was a strapping 6’3″.

You see Tom Hooper and his excellent cinematographer always framed Colin to look short and small, which the real King George VI was, and Colin Firth, the man, isn’t at all.

This time I saw how he was always seated in ill-fitting chairs. The wide-angle lens Hooper uses makes this handsome man as plain and ungainly and painful to look at as possible.He is always shot looking out of place. Even in the most comfortable of surroundings, he is uncomfortable. He is always framed alone in very large, empty,slightly distorted spaces. He is trapped in the royal fish bowl, and he can’t get out of it. And only Helena Bonham Carter’s sweet supportive Queen Elizabeth penetrates those spaces.

Bonham Carter’s performance as the Queen just totally jumped off the screen at me this time. I was able to gauge her silences and the painful look in her large dark saucer eyes much more carefully. This is a portrait of a happy marriage made painful only by circumstance and the husband’s disability. The love between the two is palpable, and magnificently rendered by Bonham Carter.

The first section of the film is entirely hers, as she strikes out on her own, to find just the right Speech Therapist, for her beleaguered husband, then only the Duke of York. And simply a royal prince, who was never brought up to be the king.

Bonham Carter’s opening scenes are just a delight as she proceeds to a part of London she never in a million years felt that she would ever find herself in. Even her struggles with a lift(British elevator)’s caged door gates becomes a moment of hilarious business, and then it doesn’t go up. It descends to the basement. Which is where Logue’s apartments are. Or the scene as when she passes her husband off  to Logue as “Mr. Johnson,” a banker who has to give public speeches.

The second viewing just made me gasp at how strong her performance really is and how she does stand up in her own quiet way to the demands of the role of the ultimate supportive wife. And certainly the category of Best Supporting Actress is made for this sort of  classic turn.

She does not chew the scenery. She does not overact or over-react. Her calibration, guided by Hooper’s gentle, subtle directorial hand, is superb. And very, very moving. The last scene when the King actually has to do “The Speech” of the title of the movie, keeps cutting back to her, with her young daughter Elizabeth at her side, listening, her wide-dark eyes, pools of concern, and love and pain, and finally she is subtlely moved to tears,or  more accurately a single, beautiful tear as her husband rallies his country to war against the Nazis.

Her one tear reduces all the audience to tears, too.

And Kings and Queens, especially such sympathetic, heroic ones as these two, win our hearts and usually Oscars, too.

And Geoffrey Rush? He deserves his own separate piece – coming soon.

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