a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘World War I’

“Le Village Francais” Is a Mixed Bag. French TV Series on WWII now on MhZ

French VillageMuch as I admire its’ audacity and ambitious reach of subject, the entire history of World War II, as encaptured in the life of a “French Village,” I hate to say it but this hit European TV series is very hit and miss.

It sounds good on paper. Each season of the TV series will focus on a different year in the occupation of France by the Germans during WWII.  And it starts off with a bang, as a group of school children go out to play on a field trip on a sun-dappled day in the tiny town of Villeneuve, a fictional subprefecture in the Jura region of France.

German planes suddenly are seen over head and begin shooting up everything in sight, including the children. A horrifying beginning, to be sure. But then we are slowly introduced to the characters and I have to say I had no great feelings for any of them.

Sure, the SITUATION they are is in riveting, but only up to a point. And the actors all look so similar it’s very hard to keep them and their plot-lines straight. The exception is Robin Renucci, a doctor who is co-erced into becoming the town’s reluctant Mayor.

Robin Renucci 1And he is forced to do many things that he does not want to do within the course of the 10 episode series. Each episode a little under the hour in length. He is actually by his acceptance of the Mayoral position, an unwitting symbol of the Vichy government. His bourgeois family continues to live well as all around him begin to starve due to ration restrictions.

The actors all being dark-haired and dark-eyed and average-looking, it took me a long time to sort out their different characters and predicaments. However, the incredible attention to war-time detail does fascinate. Some one can be jailed for just booing Hitler in a newsreel in a movie theater, for instance.

Then there’s the leftists who want to insert resistance pamphlets in all the daily newspapers. And do. But the characters doing this are all sadly two dimensional.

The Jewish question, and there a lot of Jews in this small town, is pretty much a non-issue until the latter part of Season One. Our understanding of WWII is so much based on the plight of the Jews that that part of the series suddenly springs to life as the Season ends.

It’s a great record of the period, though and I particularly loved the Special Features wherein the actual townspeople these characters are often based on get to speak, in French, of their own real-life stories and they are all hair-raising.

Being set so far out in the country the full impact of the War hits them only gradually, in stages. And it is truly harrowing, as one by one their liberties and freedoms and businesses and lives are all taken over by the  occupying Germans.

I am looking forward to Season Two. Maybe this time they’ll have more relatable characters.

Masterpiece “Downton Abbey” Swirls Its’ Way to a Magnificent Conclusion!

I am sooooo addicted to Masterpiece Theatre’s well, masterpiece, “Downton Abbey”! I was wondering when I was going to have the time and space to write about it, but now, with only one more episode left, the Second Season Finale, there’s no time left to start throwing superlatives at it! But don’t worry, at least its last show will ALSO be two hours long, like tonight’s was.

With all the Oscar excitement happening every other minute, I have barely had a chance to catch my blogger’s breath to spend the time and give the respect  to “Downton Abbey” that it deserves for being the magnificent achievement in series television that it is. It’s overwhelming. As all great art should be.

I have NEVER been so swept up by a British TV series in decades! Decades! Of course, it reminds one of “Upstairs, Downstairs” which I love as well. It’s all about the VERY rich Crawley(what a dreadful name) family, and their three marriage-aged daughters, Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Sybil AND their servants.

The difference between “Upstairs, Downstairs” was that it was set very firmly at 25 Eaton Place, a town house, in the grandest of styles, in London itself. It was about life in a CITY house, with servants. And lots of stairs.

“Downton Abbey” is set in an overwhelmingly majestic mansion that is nearly a castle in Yorkshire. DEFINITELY the country. And there’s a lot of stairs there, too, but with grand stair-cases.

And presiding over all of Downton’s magnificence, is the brilliant Dame Maggie Smith, always a personal favorite of mine, since, well, since forever.

I had the great good fortune to have seen her onstage in her youth(and mine) do Margery Pinchwife in “The Country Wife” ( with the divine and busty Patricia Routledge as Lady Fidget, who yes, was hilarious, and yes, couldn’t stop fidgeting!) And she was equally at home as Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” which she did under the direction of the late great Ingmar Bergman, which I saw her do in the West End.

Maggie was overpowering and as excellent in serious roles, though  she is today  mainly known for her great comedy. And certainly her Dowager Countess of Grantham, the grandest of grande dames, is the grandmother of the Crawley brood. She seems simply hilarious, but as World War I broke out in the Second Season, Dame Maggie began to be able to show that her Dowager Countess had real metal as well as smarts AND heart. It’s a magnificent, career-capping performance that matches the majesty of Highcleere Castle,(yes, it really IS a castle) that is standing in as the fictional Downton Abbey.

Everyone in the series matches Dame Maggie. They HAVE to! All the many characters REALLY engage you and keep you watching no matter what. Particular favorites of mine are the two eldest Crawley daughters, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael).

Michelle Dockery, who is new to me (as are much of the cast except of course, Dame Maggie and American actress Maureen McGovern, as the mother of Crawley girls and Lady Grantham’s daughter-in-law) is SUCH a discovery as a new British leading lady. She has much of the weight of the series love story to carry and she does it with tremendous power, as she high-lights all of the many facets of Lady Mary’s VERY complicated character. You love her. You hate her. You want her to be happy, then you don’t want that at all. Then you love her again.

The same can be said of the less-seen Lady Edith, who is just as conflicted. Laura Carmichael looks a little like Maggie Smith when she was young, and you can see her being the grand-daughter who takes after her granny. Although as the plain, middle-sister sandwiched between two beauties Lady Mary and Lady Sybil, she has a very hard time of it. Especially in Series One, where her constant sparring and betrayal of Lady Mary, formed much of the drama pre-war in “Downton Abbey,” which they all just refer to as Downton. As if it were a person in their lives.

And one of the great glories of this superb series is Downton really is a tangible presence in all its’ characters’ lives. They can’t live with it, and they can’t live without it. And they are all living in a world that very shortly will be gone with the wind. Literally. As World War I changes everything.

In Series Two, I was not ready for my beloved British servants/masters series to turn into a war-time drama, but dear readers, dear cineastes, the War only lasts for part of Series Two. Enough to take away one of the most memorable characters, but I decided not to spoil any of this once-in-a-lifetime viewing pleasure, so I won’t put any spoilers here.

But suffice it to say, I will have A LOT MORE to say about this wonderful, unbelievable triumph of great writing, Julian Fellowes, who was the author of “Gosford Park” and great acting and directing. Down to the smallest part all the roles are perfectly cast, and “Downton Abbey” ends its Second Series on next Sunday on PBS. It’s another two-hour episode, and it never flags. It never gets tired. And it’s always enthralling.

So my greatest rave would be two words SEE IT! Next Sunday! At 9pm! The Sunday BEFORE the Oscars!

But more good news is that they are going to have a Series Three which starts in 1920! And Shirley MacLaine is joining the cast as Lady Cora(Maureen McGovern’s mother) and the Crawley girls’ American grandmother. That should be a hoot and a half!

My favoritie line of THIS evening’s episode ~ Maggie Smith to her grand-daughter Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith “Edith, don’t be depressive! It’s soo middle class!”

Oscar Race Changes AGAIN ~ IN A DAY! With Leo as Gay J. Edgar!

It’s now really for real November and we now really for real are in OSCAR SEASON! Yes, dear readers, dear cineastes, November is the really hot-cha month when all the good stuff  starts happening. Or not…

Like this morning I started off the day with the beauteous and beneficient Kristen Scott Thomas calling me via satellite from Paris! Oui, oui, bien sur, mes amis! That’s where KST really lives most of the times, though she is of course, thoroughly English. And guess who? Harvey Weinstein is at it again, and this time he’s decided to throw an early season opener “Sarah’s Key” that sort of blipped by unnoticed by most (I knew it was there. I just didn’t get to it. Then it was gone.) Well, he’s putting “Sarah’s Key” back into some theaters and also releasing it on DVD and so Kristen Scott was calling me at a very early hour of the morning here where I am, but for her in Par-ee it was a comfortable middle of the day, a beautiful day to hear her tell it. And you will, and see her, too, coming up on my You Tube channel www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow and also on my TV show.

The Best Actress race is really packed at the top this year already. There’s really no room with supposed locks – Meryl, Glenn Close(as a man!), Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe, and Viola Davis for “The Help”. Lots of competitsh for that fifth slot. Although there’s always the Golden Globes with their ten slots and I think Kristen will fit very nicely in there. For “Sarah’s Key.” Yes, I’ll mention the name of the film again…

And meanwhile, back at the AFI opening in LA, Leonardo Di Caprio really did upend expectations with the(I knew it all along) very GAY J. Edgar, Or Gay Edgar, as I and many  people I know are calling it. Not necessarily derisively, either. This is the story that dared not speak its’ name in J. Edgar’s lifetime, and with Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, penning it. He won for “Milk.” What else COULD it be?

And Clint Eastwood has evidently told it quite while and Leo a great, great actor as well as star has never won an Oscar. Yes, ladies and gentle person’s, it’s true. And now that he’s evidently giving the performance of his career as this tormented closeted gay man of the ’30s & ’40’s. Oh, and the ‘6os and the ’70s, too, who could never come out of the closet. And neither could his supposed lover who took the name “very close friend” Clyde Tolson, here embodied by none-other than the super-hunky Winklevoss Twins themselves, Armie Hammer, and HE’S supposedly got a supporting Actor nomination in his future now, too.

So with Leo on board, I think it’s buh-bye for George O’Clooney’s Oscar hopes. He already has one. For “Syriana” for Supporting. But still…

Leo’s been nominated three times AT LEAST and never won and now it looks like with Clint Eastwood at 81 at the helm, we may finally see Leo’s Titanic Oscar ship finally pull into port…

And oh yes, the Academy has decided to honor Vanessa Redgrave, I’m not quite sure how. A dinner? A plaque? She’s already majorly in the Supporting Actress race for “Coriolanus” and now…well now, I think this is the Academy saying VOTE FOR HER! Forget her politics of the past. And let’s give her an Honorary One, or whatever it is they’re doing. And giving it to her. All her. Just her. In one Vanessa-filled night in London…well, if it’s not taking place in Hollywood itself, it really ISN’T rrrrreally official…but it’s the Academy’s way of saying “VOTE FOR HER!”

She’s 72 or 73 or 74 and her beautiful daughter Natasha died so tragically and young during the filming of “Coriolanus”…and she’s BRRRRRILLLIANT in it. And oh yes, who’s the Producer? Harvey Weinstein. Oh yes, him again. So yes, I think THAT category just got closed, today, too.

So right now King George has been de-throned by Prince Leo. And the Academy is giving Vanessa Redgrave their version of an honorary knighthood…”Sarah’s Key” is coming out AGAIN.

And “War Horse” was “sneaked” all over the country this week, and it seems people like it, they really like it.  So last week “The Descendants” was the front-runner, but now I think “War Horse” was galloped back on top.

You can see a very astute young You Tube film critic/star (y’know, like me *cough*cough*)over at www.awardsdaily.com and you can hear what he has to say about being lucky enough to have stumbled in to one of these “War Horse” sneaks…It’s a custom as old as the Academy itself. Showing a film to a surprised audience in the hinterlands…Even “Gone With the Wind” was introduced this way…”War Horse” is gonna be a tough one to beat. It’s STILL playing to sold-out houses in New York’s Lincoln Center, and it won the Tony for Best Play last year, though the writing was atrocious. I nearly left at the Intermission, but I stayed…and was amaaaazed by its’ powerful second act.

Oscar Chart by David Poland now up @ Movie City News

Yes, David Poland finally put his first, big Oscar chart of the season up at www.moviecitynews.com

And I felt a bit of relaxation to see that David and I were mostly on the same page. He’s got Woody Allen’s masterpiece “Midnight in Paris” in the #1 position for Best Picture. He’s got Michelle Williams for Best Actress for “My Week With Marilyn”. He’s got BOTH Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejos in the top spots for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress in “The Artist” and he’s got Christopher Plummer for Best Supporting Actor. However not for “Beginners” but for the still unseen “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”

But quixotically, he’s combined Plummer, also with Stellan Skarsgard for “Tattoo”, too. Plummer is playing the smallish, exposition-filled role of Herman Vanger, the old multi-millionaire who hires Mikael Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance and possible murder of the beloved neice Harriet Vanger, 14 years previously. And Skarsgard, who is also a great, great actor, plays his oldest son.

Don’t think any of THIS is going to happen, and Plummer will be awarded for “Beginners” as we’ve known from, well, the beginning of the season. May, actually.

But the others are intriguingly in sync with my P.O.V.

He doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed with Clooney in “The Descendants”. “Nothing new here” he notes.

I love David’s pithy descriptions of each persons chances! And now in Best Supp. Actress, he AND Scott Feinberg have got Berenice Bejos on top, which is really covering the waterfront in terms of two predictors from opposite ends of the Hollywood spectrum. Scott Feinberg is now at The Hollywood Reporter. But his previous web address was www.scottfeinberg.com And he was the first person to link to this humble blog. I think he still is.

I THOUGHT when I first saw “The Artist” in Montreal that Harvey Weinstein would push both Dujardin AND Bejos through for his film that really is perhaps the most lovable winner imaginable this year. Well, nominee, anyway.

Anne Thompson keeps saying at www.indiewire.com that Dujardin can’t speak English well enough to succeed on the pre-awards interview circuit. And Anne never makes this judgements lightly. I wonder if Berenice Bejos speaks it better?

I know one of the reasons that Marion Cotillard who won so famously and deservedly for “La Vie En Rose” (besides her being on my show!) was that she assiduously STUDIED English very hard during the pre-Oscar months, when she literally MOVED to L.A. and camped out there and went to every party imaginable and that dear readers, dear cineastes is what you have to do.

Poland also thinks Ryan Gosling’s chances are as dead as a doornail this year for “Drive” and for “Ides of March” which everyone is now discounting. And I think that’s right, too…

Berenice Bejos really COULD win. The other most talked about lady in waiting in the Supporting Category is Octavia Spenser for “The Help.” And as David points out regarding “The Bridesmaids” Melissa McCarthy that Oscar does not reward you for shitting in a sink, which evidently she does in this movie. That same maxim can be applied to Spenser, who although she doesn’t do it in the sink, she famously does it somewhere else, which I’m not going to spoil here. But let’s just say, you don’t get an Oscar for doing the brazen, outrageous act that makes her character of the outspoken Minny in “The Help” so memorable. I rest my Octavia Spenser case…

And Poland gives no traction whatsoever to Jeff Wells crusade for “Tyrannosaur” which, BTW, he barely mentions it, except in his Comments section where someone does bring Olivia Coleman’s name up. And Poland quickly brings it down.

And I just finally made myself watch the trailer for “War Horse”. Yes, no one seen it, but EVERYONE has seen the play and the trailer nearly made me cry. My heart just went out to that poor horse! And it’s a gorgeous horse, too! It’s acting its’ heart out. No really. It has Oscar Winner written all over that one.

And a strong supporting cast of un-Oscar-ed British actors, including the great Emily Watson in the pivotal role of the mother. And also Tom Hiddleston, a guest on my TV show, as the noble British captain who buys The Horse. You can see me interview Tom about this in a rather splendid chat we had at TIFF’11 that is now up on my channel at www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow He talks about “War Horse” in Pt.2.

Only problem I see on the horizon for “War Horse” is that it may be too sentimental, but y’know, that’s never stopped any one from winning an Oscar!

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: