Revelations about and because of James L. Brooks’ ‘Broadcast News’

First things first – so sorry I have been MIA over the last month! The movie watching has not stopped (if it had you know something would have to be SERIOUSLY wrong). I have been watching ’em and making my list of movies to discuss and over the next several weeks, I’m finally going to get to it!

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the brilliant, hilarious and extremely relevant film Broadcast News. This was a movie I had seen several years ago, as a young teenager. Although I remember liking the film a lot, this second viewing at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, was surprising. Some films just have to be seen as an older person to be appreciated and I think Broadcast News is definitely one of them.

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TBH…their conversation was straight-up hilarious. 

Prolific producer/writer/director James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News follows Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), a quickly rising tv news producer. She’s smart as a whip and literally thinks twelve steps ahead of everyone else around her. Her best friend is the hilarious, smart and IMHO very cute Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). He’s one-hundred percent in love with Jane, something you can see five minutes into watching their relationship. A new anchor, Tom Grunick (William Hurt) comes onto the scene, pulling both at Jane’s heartstrings and encroaching on Aaron’s professional territory. In other words…DRAMA ENSUESSSSSSS.

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Burrrrrrrn. Really, though. I told you there’d be some drama. 

Here are just a few reasons Broadcast News is a movie you honestly should’ve put on your rundown (bad news pun)…like years ago!

The Cast

As I’ve said a bajillion times on this blog, casting is so important to how a movie turns out. If you cast people that are fun and relatable and just plain entertaining to watch, the characters can grow beyond just some lines of dialogue on a piece of paper. This film is a classic example of quite honestly, perfect casting.

One of the revelations from the TCM fest panel with James L. Brooks and Albert Brooks (no relation, guys, I swear) was that Holly Hunter was cast at the last minute and another unnamed actress almost got the part. Hunter was a virtual unknown at the time. She had just filmed Raising Arizona, a film which was only released a few months before Broadcast News. Hunter is the true anchor of the film, a confusing choice of words because she plays the executive producer of the news show in the film.

As a young woman, I find her portrayal of Jane to be so relatable. She’s so human and so complicated and filled with contradictions and you could never watch her and feel disconnected to her struggles.

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#RealTalk…I cry at least once a day.

Albert Brooks is so completely underrated. In the Q&A between Albert Brooks and James L. Brooks which was helmed by Ben Mankiewicz, Albert said he felt that Jane was never going to ultimately get with Aaron. Watching the film again, which was after the Q&A, I was like outrageously angry at Jane. If you were Jane, WHY WOULDN’T YOU GET WITH AARON? I mean, he’s intelligent, he’s funny, he’s self deprecating. He’s cute and a good person. I mean, come on, really though! I think this really goes to the heart of two arguments for me: one is attraction is about MORE than looks. The other is that I’m tired of movies never letting the actual good guy, the “underdog” get the girl. I mean, this is another Pretty in Pink scenario, guys. She belonged with Duckie, not that rich asshole.

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I flinch every time I watch this scene…

Whew, thanks for letting me get out, y’all. Back to Albert Brooks being awesome. He, separate from his character, is smart and literally hilarious. If you need some proof, just watch this clip from The Tonight Show back in the 70’s.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – I just wrote a literal lovefest about Albert Brooks. How am I possibly going to sing William Hurt’s praises too? Well, you’re about to find out. I do understand Jane’s attraction to Hurt’s Tom Grunick. Grunick is charming and obviously adorable. And, the thing is, Hurt is extremely intelligent so his portrayal of a dunce is actually quite funny. He’s also a fantastic actor who was already an Academy Award winner at the time they filmed Broadcast News.

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He’s a little freaked out…but his hair looks amazing!

The supporting players are also fantastic – Robert Prosky, a wonderful character actor plays the head of the news division. Jack Nicholson plays Bill Rorish, the top news anchor with an ego, quite a stretch for Nicholson! Cough, cough.

The real supporting MVP of the film though is one Joan Cusack. I’ve heard people refer to her as John Cusack’s sister which, is, of course, true but also infuriating. Do you think people refer to John Cusack as Joan Cusack’s brother? I think not! Okay, now I’m getting off topic. The upshot of it is she is a star in her own right and she is fantastic in this film. For real though, she delivers my favorite line in the film which she says to Holly Hunter’s Jane in tears: “Except for socially, you’re my role model.” Laugh-cry are the only words that can describe that moment.

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JOAN CUSACK IS EVERYTHING. 

The Script

Beyond the cast, the other essential piece of this film is the script. It is so wildly funny while also being relatable, relevant and moving. James L. Brooks wrote this as a romantic comedy which kind of cracks me up considering how the film ends.

Still, what movie being made today covers the same ground as Broadcast News? It’s essentially about people, but it’s also about the current (at the time obvi) state of television news, the ethics in telling a story, the moral obligation to be truthful. In this way, it’s an obvious precursor to Sorkin’s The Newsroom. His characters, too, are very preoccupied with the ethics of being a news reporter.

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Hmmm…I don’t know about that. #Rationalization

I especially liked the focus on the three main characters since they were all so different, but still human and likable.

Tom is the handsome idiot, except he isn’t. Tom has a skill set that both Aaron and Jane are missing. He knows how to present information in a trustworthy, confident way.

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Even his hair is trustworthy…lol

Jane is a career girl and I think the real reason she struggles socially is not because she’s incapable, but because she believes the only way to excel in her career is to block out everything else.

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Lesson learned: DO NOT MESS WITH HOLLY HUNTER

Aaron, on the other hand, is intensely smart but also neurotic, which is what ultimately is blocking him. He can’t stop thinking for a minute…which of course, I don’t relate to at all.

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The FUNNIEST scene in the movie, but it’s also a bit hard to watch. 

The Romance

As you all know from reading my movie musings, I’m a fan of the romance. Whether the romance is a fan of me is another story…lol. But, seriously, the romance in this film is wonderful because like some of my other all time favorites, this film covers mature romantic struggles.

With Aaron and Jane, we are presented with one of the most used stereotypes from romcoms: the best friend who’s in love with the main character. I think they both want to love each other in that way, but the timing gets in the way. Jane’s not ready to let someone in while Aaron is more than ready.

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That flinch THO. #RealityBites

 

And then Tom enters their lives and catches Jane’s attention. He’s attractive and confident and interested…and they do actually feel real things for each other. But, again, Jane lets her walls get in the way, because, timing-wise, she’s just not ready.

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He’s so TALL.

I think this is something not generally discussed in romantic films, the idea of not being ready for someone when they come into your life. There’s a reality there, so much so that when you see these three characters meet each other again at the end of the film, it doesn’t feel forced.

Because it’s still relevant, absolutely hilarious, and filled with brilliant dialogue and fantastic performances!

If you’ve never seen Broadcast News, you need to watch ASAP. If you have seen it, I guarantee it warrants another look, if only to realize just how much you relate to Holly Hunter’s character…or maybe that’s just me. I don’t think so…lol.

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Vintage trailer below:

Gifs property of Twentieth Century Fox.

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Why Gillian Armstrong’s ‘Little Women’ Adaptation Reigns Supreme

As a child of the 90’s, there are certain biases I have. When I was in elementary school, I became obsessed with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. As such, I watched every adaptation of the book, of which there have been many, seven to be exact. The earliest was made in 1933 and the latest was made in 1994.

Gillian Armstrong’s Little Women was always my favorite. Why, you may well ask? Well, for a number of reasons. Winona Ryder (nuff said). Christian Bale before he was Christian Bale. Claire Danes. Kirsten Dunst. It’s just the greatest, nostalgia and feminism all wrapped up in one big 90’s package.

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The eternal question: Are you a Marmee or an Amy?

If you’re not familiar, Little Women follows the March family: Jo March, the headstrong writer (Winona Ryder), Meg March, the quiet beauty (Trini Alvarado), Beth March, the awkward, sweet one (Claire Danes) and Amy March, the precocious, slightly vapid one (Kirsten Dunst). It’s the story of their coming of age in the time after the Civil War. Be aware: coming of age drama ensues.

Here are a few reasons you need to watch Little Women ASAP:

The Cast

As I’ve discussed before, Winona Ryder is my 90’s spirit animal. She really is such a powerhouse actress and she’s never given a bad performance. As Jo, Ryder really shines. She so easily fits into this world and this character. This was Ryder in her early 20’s prime. She made Reality Bites this same year.

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This was her giving eyes to a young Christian Bale…

Trini Alvarado is also great as Meg. The role of Meg is semi-similar to Jane in Pride and Prejudice. She’s sweet and a bit bland. But, she’s a contrast to the colorful main character. Trini hasn’t done much as of late, but I really enjoyed her in this.

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How gorgeous is she??

Like Ryder, I’m a MAJOR fan of Claire Danes. This film was made the same year she made the one, seminal season of the best teen show ever made (yes, I know. BIG STATEMENT), My So-Called Life. At the time, Claire was just fourteen years old. Funnily enough, she actually beat out Alicia Silverstone for the part of Beth. She also competed against Silverstone for the role of Angela in My So-Called Life.

Lovely and heartbreaking, she plays Beth with poise and vulnerability. I can’t not cry watching her in this.

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I’M NOT CRYING. YOU’RE CRYING. #RealTalk

Ah, and then there’s little Kirsten Dunst. Watching her in this really makes you remember how old you are. She was twelve years old during the filming of this and she’s absolutely wonderful. She’s precocious and sweet and has SO much personality.

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Look at those little ringlets!!

The Christian Bale of the Batman series is not my favorite. But, THIS Christian Bale I can get on board with. He was just twenty when he was in this and there was something very unpolished about him. He had a pronounced lisp in this film that’s just plain adorable.

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Just the HAIR. That is all.

In my research, I found that Olivia Hussey (aka Juliet) expressed interest in playing Marmee. Producers believed she looked too much like Trini Alvarado and so, Susan Sarandon ended up getting the part. And I have to say, all do respect to Olivia Hussey, but Sarandon was meant to play this part. She was everything the character needed to be. Feminist, sweet, tough…Sarandon!

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Aw, the March family…

Gabriel Byrne is also great as the Friedrich, the man who eventually steals Jo’s heart.

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SO CUTE, even though he’s like twenty years older than her…

Oh, and yes, that is Eric Stoltz from Some Kind of Wonderful playing Meg’s love interest, John Brooke.

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I think the beard is what gets me the most. It’s just….eh.

The Script

Robin Swicord penned the adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel and somehow, did so while giving the film a modern feel. It’s in the past and we feel that, but it’s also accessible, timeless. Swicord also wrote Matilda and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

What’s so wonderful about Alcott’s story is that she paints complex women. They are not one thing, they are many. And that’s specifically true with Jo who feels like a modern woman. The women are not there just for the “male” story. This is their story!

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#GirlPower

The Direction

Gillian Armstrong has mostly directed documentaries and I feel that some of her directorial choices mirror that. The film has a “fly on the wall” perspective at times. We feel like we’re apart of the March girl’s lives.

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Beth!!! 😦

Its themes are ON POINT. 

I learned so much from Little Women as a young girl. It deals with loss and love and friendship and independence. But, what I mostly took away was a line that Marmee says to Jo and Meg:

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Time erodes all such beauty. You tell ’em Marmee!

It’s the only adaptation helmed by an all-female creative team!

This film is from the female perspective. It’s adapted from a book by a woman by a woman. It’s directed by a woman. It’s produced by a woman. This doesn’t negate the value in previous adaptations, but there is something to be said about women telling stories about women. During the studio era, many “women’s films” were directed and written by men. Again, not saying that makes them bad, but it does make them different.

Women still have a hard time getting green-lit as directors.

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This film celebrates women in all aspects!

It’s inspiring, genuine and all kinds of nostalgic.

This is one of my favorite films to watch during the holiday season. It captures so much about growing up and has some wonderful performances. I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a writer because of Jo March (lol, I know I’m not the only one).

If you’ve never seen it, put it on your list. A true modern classic.

 

Pictures and Gifs property of Columbia Pictures.

Girls Gif property of HBO.

The Whimsical Magic of “The Purple Rose of Cairo”

So, this one may be a stretch in regards to my Halloween theme, but it is fantastical so I’m gonna go ahead and say it works. I first saw this movie back in my early teen years and initially, I wasn’t a big fan of it. I had already been introduced to Woody Allen by this point, but most of the films I had seen were his “early, funny ones.”

The Purple Rose of Cairo is something entirely different. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still very much a comedy, but it’s rooted in a real, emotional story. As I’ve gotten older, the film has grown on me more and more and I now consider it one of my favorite Woody Allen films.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Purple Rose of Cairo, made in 1985, follows Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a poor young woman in the depression. Her husband, Monk (Danny Aiello) is out of work. He has very little interest in finding any work or treating Cecilia with any sort of basic level of respect. The only joy in Cecilia’s life comes from her consistent trips to the movies. She has more interest in those fictional worlds than she does in her real one. One day, in the midst of watching a film she’s already watched multiple times, one of the characters notices and walks out of the screen. Thus, drama ensues!

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If only fictional characters could talk to us. Le sigh.

Here are just a few reasons you should add The Purple Rose of Cairo to your queue:

The Cast

Even though, of course, there’s been drama between the film’s leading lady and Woody Allen, I’d say this film is probably Mia Farrow’s best performance, certainly of the films she made with Allen. You automatically relate to Cecilia’s situation and understand why she loses herself in the movies. That’s partly due to great writing, but the credit should also be given to Farrow’s performance which is shiningly sincere and sweet.

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Kinda gives you Waitress/Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore Vibes, right?

The dual role of Gil Sheperd and Tom Baxter was a bit more difficult. Allen had originally cast Michael Keaton in the role. Keaton took a major pay cut to be in the film, but ten days into shooting, Keaton and Allen both agreed that something wasn’t working. Apparently, though Allen though Keaton was giving a strong performance, he felt that Keaton was just too modern for the audience suspend its disbelief.

The part was recast – Jeff Daniels took over. When I think of Daniels, my mind can’t NOT go to Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant HBO show The Newsroom. He will always be Will McAvoy to me. But, of course, at the time, Daniels had only two film credits to his name, Ragtime and a little film called Terms of Endearment. Watching the film, it’s difficult to imagine someone else in the role, especially Keaton. There’s a naivete that Daniels had that made Tom Baxter (the character in the movie she loves) completely lovable. He’s almost like a puppy, excited by everything and idealistic enough to think that if you love someone, every other problem can be fixed. Conversely, Daniels brought a completely different sensibility to Gil Sheperd (the actor who plays Tom Baxter). He’s pompous, confident, and he has a tough exterior. He looks out for himself over everyone else.

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It’d be really nice if Tom Baxter was real…

Danny Aiello is also notable as Cecilia’s awful husband. Now, it’s true, he’s a bit of a stereotype. However, he’s more there for comedic effect and as a contrast for the loveliness that is Tom Baxter. A brilliant character actor, Aiello is best known for his roles in The Godfather: Part II, Do the Right Thing, and Once Upon a Time in America. Even though he’s despicable, Aiello makes it so you can’t completely hate him.

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That look THOUGH…

Also, special mention: Gilmore Girls fans may not know much of Edward Herrmann’s roles outside of patriarch Richard Gilmore. He actually had an extensive film career and by the time this film was made, he had already had roles in The Great Gatsby, The Paper Chase and Reds. Of the film, Herrmann said, “…it was a great cast, all these very clever people, and we were having a hell of a good time acting ’30s (Herrmann, The AV Club Article).”

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I spy Richard Gilmore!

John Wood, the man next to Edward Herrmann above, is also very good. Recognize the name? He was also in WarGames, which I discussed a few weeks back.

Dianne Wiest is also hilarious. So many great character actors in this one!

The Script/Direction

Much can be said about Woody Allen as a person. There are people who I’m sure are probably annoyed that I would even discuss one of his films. But, I’m a firm believer in separating the artist from the person. And, as a writer, Woody Allen is one of the best!

This film is said to be one of his favorites of his own work. The fantastical nature never bothered me because I felt like the film was grounded in real emotions. And, as all of you know from reading my posts, I love the 1930’s. So, for me, it seems like a no brainer that I’d fall in love with it. After rewatching it this last time, I couldn’t help but see the similarities between this film and a film much later in Allen’s oeuvre, Midnight in Paris.

Both films are really about the difference between reality and fiction, between our idealistic notions and the hard cold facts. Whereas Midnight in Paris  was about how we idealize a time period, The Purple Rose of Cairo ponders the way we idealize the characters we see in movies. Every fangirl (and guy) out there understands this true dilemma. The characters we see in movie are just too amazing. How can real people live up to that?

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Literally my favorite line ever. Or at least…it’s pretty close!

Also, interesting to note that Allen had to fight to keep the film’s melancholy ending. “Orion executives asked Allen to change the painful conclusion, which punctured the escapist fantasy of the rest of the film, but Allen refused (Feaster, TCM Article).” I can’t imagine the film ending any other way.

The Cinematography

You may not know Gordon Willis by name, but you’ve certainly seen his work. In addition to the Godfather trilogy, he also shot All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, and The Paper Chase. In other words, he served as DP on more than a few classics. Oh, and did I mention he was nominated for some Oscars?

I love the color in this film, the dreariness makes you believe in the time period completely. Also, when Tom Baxter walks out of the screen…EPIC.

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AMAZINNNNG, amiright?

The Music

As with all Woody Allen movies, the music is incredible. The first scene of the film is Cecilia watching Astaire and Rogers. Literally warms your heart. No, really, it does!

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When we’re dancing cheek to cheek…

It’s fanciful, intriguing and makes you feel ALL THE FEELS…

To me, The Purple Rose of Cairo has a little bit of something for everyone. If you can suspend your disbelief, you’ll be taken on a magical adventure and find yourself both laughing AND crying along the way.

Woody Allen doesn’t attend any award ceremonies with the exception of the 2002 Oscars (he talked about NYC after 9/11). He’s written and directed almost fifty feature films. Some are fantastic and some are…not so fantastic. But, he keeps plugging away. Some hit the mark exactly and this film is certainly one of them.

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Anyone else wish movie theaters still looked like this?

Vintage trailer below:

Images and Gifs property of Orion Pictures

Why ‘Vertigo’ is Worthy of its Hyped-up Reputation

Continuing my Halloween theme, I decided to discuss one of my favorite thrillers of all time. I’m not one for hype. In fact, if something is hyped up that generally makes me not want to watch it. There’s a certain cache to being apart of a fandom that has few members. You feel like you know a secret no one else does.

When I originally saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, I believe I was in elementary school. I remember thinking it was okay, but I certainly didn’t consider it one of my favorites; never mind the greatest film ever made. A few years back, I saw the film at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, as part of the American Cinematheque’s schedule and was blown away. Maybe it’s because I was older or because I saw it on the big screen. Whatever the reason, I was amazed by the artistry of this film: it’s a true masterclass.

If you’re unfamiliar, Vertigo, made in 1958, follows John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), a San Francisco detective who suffers from acrophobia. He is asked by an old friend to investigate his wife, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak). It begins as a ghost story. Madeleine shares a lot in common with her ancestor, Carlotta, who committed suicide. Scottie begins to think that Madeleine may be the reincarnation of Carlotta. Let’s just say, much drama and suspense ENSUE…

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One of the best title sequences in a movie…EVER

Here are just a few reasons why Vertigo is worth the hype:

The Cast

This is probably Jimmy Stewart’s best performance, which says a lot considering how many classic films he starred in and how many amazing performances he gave. Stewart had already filmed It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and of course, Rear Window. In Vertigo, he’s his usual self – rugged, smart, and heartbreaking.

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Guys, he’s almost fifty here if you can believe it!

It’s difficult to imagine this film without Kim Novak. However, the Madeleine part originally went to Vera Miles, who later showed up in Hitchcock’s Psycho. She dropped out of the film because she got pregnant. I don’t want to ruin anything, but I will say that Novak plays two roles in this film. She’s mysterious, alluring, beautiful, and surprisingly vulnerable.

“Novak already had a reputation for being difficult, so perhaps it was not a surprise when she refused to show up for work on the Vertigo set in August, 1957. She was striking for more money from her home studio Columbia, who was paying her $1,250 a week even though they were receiving $250,000 for her loan-out for Vertigo and one more picture. The ploy worked and Novak got a raise (John M. Miller, TCM Article).”

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I wish I could get my hair into that perfect bun. #HAIRGOALS

Barbara Bel Geddes, who I’ve spoken about before when I discussed Caught, gets sort of the short end of the stick in this film. In truth, before seeing Caught, Vertigo was the only film I knew her from. Despite her sidekick role in this film, she makes an impression.

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Those glasses though. #SMARTGIRLSRULE

The Direction

I’ve discussed some lesser known Hitchcock films on the blog, including Young and Innocent and The Lady Vanishes. He was a genius, but you already know that. You’ve heard his name a million times in reference to Psycho probably. By this time, his direction style was pretty well solidified. He loved messing with the audience.

He was most interested in Scottie’s obsession in the film, so much so that most critics theorize that the entire plot of Vertigo is the macguffin (something that gets the plot in motion but is not relevant to the audience) of the film.

This movie works on so many levels and obviously, as with all Hitchcock films, he was the one pulling the strings. If someone asks for a Hitchcock recommendation, this is the one I send them to.

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Jimmy looks a little on edge in this picture. Wonder what Hitch is telling them…

The Script

Hitch loved getting the rights to novels and throwing away the story. He did the same in the case of Vertigo, gaining the rights to D’entre les Morts, or in English, The Living and the Dead, a French novel by Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau. He changed the setting from Paris to San Francisco and added a new aspect of obsession to the story. Alex Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor penned the script which is all over the place in the best possible way. There are light, flirty, fun moments and dark, depressing, unbelievably thrilling ones.

I loved the idea that’s the main plot at the beginning of the film – that this woman may be the reincarnation of her ancestor. It’s creepy and thought provoking. It’s psychological and has us questioning not only Madeleine’s sanity, but our protagonist’s.

I don’t wish to ruin the film if you haven’t seen it, so I’ll just say that the story subverts expectations. It doesn’t go where you think it will and that only puts you more on the edge of your seat. It’s one of those films where no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you’re tense.

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San Francisco is haunting in this film, for seriously. 

The Score

I cannot overemphasize the importance of Bernard Hermann’s incredible score. It functions as another character in the film and is hauntingly beautiful. Hermann was, of course, responsible for some of the greatest film scores ever written, including Taxi Driver, Psycho and Citizen Kane.

The Cinematography

Robert Burks served as DP on most of Hitch’s films including Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, and Dial M for Murder. At a base level, this film is just plain beautifully shot. The technicolor is absorbing and vivid. Hitchcock also broke ground on new camera techniques in this film, but it was always in support of the story. For instance, here’s how he dealt with showing Scottie’s fear of heights:

“It was 2nd unit cameraman Irmin Roberts who created the in-camera special effect that has since become known as a “contra-zoom shot”, a “trombone shot” or, most popularly, the “vertigo shot.” It is created when using a zoom lens to adjust the field of view while the camera is physically moving toward or away from a subject in the frame. This causes a distortion of the perspective – the background of a scene appears to change size while the main subject remains the same. Since this optical effect has no correlation to normal human perception, the result is mentally disorienting (John M. Miller, TCM Article).”

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Look at the way he used color. BRILLIANT.
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Probably my favorite scene in the film in terms of cinematography.

It’s suspenseful, creepy, and completely absorbing…

When the film was released in 1958, audiences didn’t really know what to think of it. It wasn’t particularly well received by the critics either. Over time and several re-rereleases, the film has become known as the greatest film ever made, or at least, on par with Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Vertigo is a perfect Halloween movie. This is one case where I believe the hype fits the film. It is expert in every aspect and is necessary viewing for any film fan. Vertigo has so much to absorb that it REQUIRES multiple viewings. If you’ve never seen the film, I recommend trying to catch it on the big screen. Experiencing it with an audience is essential.

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Kinda trippy, no?

Trailer below:

 

Gifs and photos property of Paramount Pictures.

 

 

Why ‘Short Term 12’ is a Modern Classic

At the first TCM Film Festival, back in 2010, I think it’s safe to say my brothers and I were the youngest people there. We cornered Ben Mankiewicz (just kidding – he loved talking to us!) and asked him if he thought good movies were still being made today. We were trying to settle an argument in which my dad had asserted that most movies made after 1990 were of mediocre quality. Ben laughed and told us that of course, good movies were still being made. He said that whether it was 1940 or 2010, there are good movies and there are bad movies. No time is perfect. Short Term 12, made in 2013, is a perfect example for anyone who thinks that new movies are all crap.

I remember very distinctly seeing the trailer for this movie and saying, “Ooh, Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr!” Yes, I was literally seeing it because of the stars. I never thought it would become one of my favorite movies, but it did. When it came out in Los Angeles, I dragged my roommate to see it with me. We were two of four people in the theater…mind you, it was a week day, but still…

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Brie is EVERYTHING

It was one of those experiences you have where you come out of the theater and can’t believe something that amazing exists, something that touches you on such a deep level and is actually about an important issue. I was in awe of this film and so, went back to see it in theaters multiple times, each time dragging a new person with me. I was a little obsessive.

If you’ve never seen the film, here’s the 411: Short Term 12 follows a group of line staff at a short-term care center for foster kids. The place is essentially a halfway house – as Brie says in the film, “they just keep them [the kids] until the state figures out where they’re gonna go next” (Cretton). Brie’s character, Grace, is leader of the line staff. She’s a girl who has a few demons of her own. She takes her job very seriously and when they take in a new girl, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), Grace is forced to face those demons. And of course, that complicates her relationship with her boyfriend and fellow line staff member, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) and drama ensues!

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#drama

So, even though this blog is dedicated almost exclusively to older films, I wanted to take a minute and talk about this film because it is already a classic. And here are a few reasons why:

The Cast

Obviously, Brie Larson won the Oscar this past year for her performance in Room, (which is also great), but I believe her performance in Short Term 12 was just as Oscar worthy. I remember hearing a story about James Cagney in which he gave advice on acting. He said, “You walk in, plant yourself, look the other fella in the eye, and tell the truth” (Cagney). Brie Larson, whether she’s heard that advice or not, reflects that ideal in this film. She’s so genuine in every moment. This movie would be worth watching just for her performance which is subtle, relatable, and heartbreaking.

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I think she pulls off this look pretty well…

John Gallagher Jr. is also wonderful as Mason. I’ve been a fan of John since he was in the original cast of Spring Awakening on Broadway. And then, of course, he was on The Newsroom, a show which I worship in a god-like way. He shares that same verisimilitude that Brie has. In every moment of everything I’ve seen him in, there’s never been one false moment. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to fall in love with him, in The Newsroom and in Short Term 12. Plus, he’s hilarious!

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Be still my beating Newsroom-loving heart…

Kaitlyn Dever was quite the discovery as Jayden, the new girl with an attitude problem. It’s easy when you first see her on screen to put her in a box, but she’s got layers upon layers and took her big emotional moments in the film and played them with subtlety. I’m sure we’re going to see great things from her.

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Love the eyeliner action.

Keith Stanfield had been in the original short that Director Destin Cretton made on the subject. He shines as Marcus, a quiet, smart, but insecure kid who’s about to turn eighteen, and thus, be thrown out into the real world, with no one to help him. He wrote original raps for the film and they are heart-wrenching and powerful.

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Powerful words, no?

Finally, Rami Malek (who, of course now, has had great success with USA’s Mr. Robot) is great as the newest line staff member, Nate. His part may be small, but he makes the most of it and actually has some of the funniest moments in the film.

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A slightly different character than he plays in Mr. Robot…

The Screenplay

Destin Daniel Cretton first made a short about this subject and then decided to expand it into a feature. He based on his time working in residential foster care. As such, there’s a weight to it beyond just being an entertaining story. He obviously wanted to tell this story because his experiences and what he observed were close to his heart. His story is what all great stories are about: human beings. Flawed as the characters might be, they’re completely relatable and feel true.

As a writer, his screenplay is truly inspiring to me.

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#HeartBreaking

The Music 

The original score for Short Term 12 was written by Joel P. West, who’s only just now, starting to garner some attention. To me, his music is vital to the film. It almost feels like another character. It’s subtle and somehow fits these people and their journeys perfectly.

As I mentioned, though, Keith Stanfield wrote some raps for the film and they are incredible. This one, especially:

The Cinematography

Brett Pawlak served as DP on the film and the results are incredible. This also goes hand in hand with the direction of the film. There’s a scene where Jayden is waiting to be picked up, listening to a song on headphones. Cretton and Pawlak do such a great job of making you feel like you’re in her head, going through it along with her.

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When she looks up THOUGH

It’s heartfelt and deeply moving

This movie left an impression on me. It’s special because it’s not exploitative. It’s coming from the heart and you can tell. Some people, like my dad, have a bias against new films simply because they’re new. And mind you, I think there are a lot of bad movies being made today. But, this movie is a reminder that a good story is a good story, no matter when it’s made. Cretton established himself as a filmmaker interested in characters and I can’t wait to see his next film!

 

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Great line.

Watch the trailer below. The film is available to stream on Netflix. 😍

 

The Genius of Robert Redford and ‘Ordinary People’

Robert Redford, renowned Actor, Producer and Director, celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday. In honor of his birthday, I thought I’d discuss one of my all time favorite films, the wonderful 1980 family drama Ordinary People.

I first saw the film in high school right smack dab in the middle of teen angst. While I had never dealt with anything close to what this family was dealing with, I deeply related to Timothy Hutton’s Conrad. I remember being so emotional after my first viewing of the film that I had to excuse myself, embarrassed that I was crying.

If you’ve never seen Ordinary People, the film follows an upper class suburban family dealing with the aftermath of an accident which left the eldest brother dead. For Conrad (Timothy Hutton), it’s especially hard – he was with his brother during the fatal boating accident. After leaving the hospital (where he stayed after he attempted suicide) , his parents Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth (Mary Tyler-Moore) try desperately to pretend they’re just an ordinary family. More than anyone, Beth has trouble expressing her emotions as well as any affection towards the only son she’s got left.

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Awk…ward

Here are just a few reasons Ordinary People is a classic film staple:

The Cast

The cast makes this film what it is. Don’t get me wrong; it has many other strengths. However, without this cast, none of it would work.

Timothy Hutton was just 19 and if you can believe it, Ordinary People marked his first role in a film. And what a debut it was – Hutton was real, honest, raw. Perhaps, it was precisely because he was new that his performance was so natural. He’s one of the major reasons I fell in love with the film. He reminded me of another great actor, Logan Lerman. Hutton’s performance specifically made me think of Lerman’s performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. What can I say? I like emotional men…

Hutton won the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor…

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A good looking man, no?

Judd Hirsch was also wonderful as Berger, Conrad’s therapist. Redford had seen him in Taxi and thought his rapid-fire way of talking would be perfect for Dr. Berger, as he’s supposed to be a little nutty or off kilter. Hirsch looked back at the film for EW’s anniversary piece, saying, “The only person I hung out with was Timothy. He was so young and green and had just lost his father [the actor Jim Hutton] a few months earlier” (EW).

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Hirsch telling it like it is…

Mary Tyler-Moore played Beth, Conrad’s mother. This was quite the departure for her as she was known for playing upbeat, positive characters – specifically in the enormously popular sitcoms The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler-Moore show. With this film, Redford sought to explore Mary Tyler-Moore’s dark side. And her performance is fantastic, complex and subtle.

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A complex character to be sure…

Donald Sutherland played Beth’s husband and Conrad’s father, Calvin. Originally Redford wanted to see him for the role of Dr. Berger, but Sutherland convinced him he should play the husband. Sutherland’s Calvin is the parent really looking out for Conrad – he spends much of the film worried and trying to appease Beth, who believes they shouldn’t talk about any of their problems. He plays another great father in Pride and Prejudice so one could say, this film was just the start of this “type.”

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Quiet and reserved, but completely powerful

Elizabeth McGovern played Conrad’s romantic interest, Janneane Pratt. She was just about to start at Juliard, but Redford begged her to wait a few weeks. The film is certainly not hers, but her limited role gave her a chance to shine.

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Love that late 70s, early 80s hair…

The Screenplay

The film was based on a novel by Judith Guest. In the same EW article I mentioned, Judith spoke about the adaptation process, saying, “Ordinary People was my first book, and I was just thrilled that Viking was going to publish it. Then Redford called one day. I have a couple of brothers who are a bunch of jokesters, so when I got this call saying, “Hi, Judy, this is Robert Redford,” I said, “Yeah, sure it is.” I’m sure he gets that all the time. He just said, calmly, “No, it really is” (Guest, EW).

Alvin Sargent, who also wrote Paper Moon and Streisand’s A Star is Born, adapted Guest’s novel for the screen. Redford apparently sent Guest many drafts, asking her advice and giving her permission to criticize whatever she liked.

To me, the film is about loneliness and tragedy and the struggle to live through the worst moments in our lives. It’s also about understanding one another. Every character in the film is given depth, their own reasons for looking at the world the way they do. No one is a villain – they’re just imperfect people.

The plot in this film is small. It’s a character story. That starts at the script stage…and considering Sargent won an Oscar for his adaptation, I’d say he did pretty well.

The Direction

This is what it’s all about. Ordinary People was Robert Redford’s directorial debut. Funnily enough, Redford didn’t win any Oscars for his esteemed acting career. He, of course, won for directing Ordinary People and it is well deserved. The film is sensitive and unbelievably moving and that’s really because Redford believed in it. He put so much into it. For all aspiring directors out there, this is certainly one to watch.

It’s cathartic, superbly well-acted, and incredibly impactful.

Whenever a movie hits in such a big way, we wonder how it happened. And of course, the movie studios, try to replicate it. Success, many of them believe is just an equation. This element + this element = a great film. Unfortunately, in this medium, that’s not how it works. When a film works, it’s like lighting in a bottle. You have no idea how it happened – it just did. All you can do is appreciate it.

As an aspiring screenwriter and an avid movie-watcher, what I take away from the film is that caring is the key. You can’t watch this film and not see the love and sweat that went into getting it made. Studios didn’t want to make it at the time, believing it wasn’t commercial enough.

Ordinary People, to me, is an encouragement that little films, emotional films, films focused on characters, can also be successful. Redford, of course, founded The Sundance Institute to help fund independent films. And when you consider what this film was up against in the 1981 Oscars (Raging Bull and The Elephant Man), it’s an incredible statement that the film took home the Best Picture Oscar.

Vintage trailer below. Get ready for emotions you didn’t even know you had…😭

‘Young and Innocent’: Hitchcock’s Most Obscure Masterpiece

This past Saturday marked the 117th birthday of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. The occasion made me think of one of my favorite Hitchcock films, Young and Innocent, or as it’s also known, The Girl Was Young. It was one of his early British films, which he made in between The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes! 

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Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney in Young and Innocent

It’s not one of the acclaimed Hitchcock films you’ll see on those lists of the best movies ever made. It is a quiet film, one which was made on the cheap (Hitch used lots of set-models in this one) and which is not perfect by any means. Still, it’s immensely enjoyable due in large part to its charming leads.

If you’ve never seen Young and Innocent, here’s my quick synopsis. Nova Pilbeam plays Erica, a policeman’s daughter who befriends an escaped convict. Her co-star, the escaped convict, Robert Driscoll, was played by the handsome and witty, Derrick De Marney. Driscoll is accused of murdering a famous film actress and with the evidence stacked against him, he runs away. Erica ends up helping him, first reluctantly – then, because she believes in his innocence…and y’know, ends up falling in love with him.

Here are just a few reasons Young and Innocent is a Hitchcock staple:

The Cast

Nova Pilbeam is a revelation in this film. She was only eighteen at the time, but she projected supreme confidence and poise beyond her years. She’s also a kick-ass feminist heroine, using razor-sharp quips as her weapons.

Pilbeam was a famous child actress who also starred in Hitchcock’s original British The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1934. Although, she didn’t star in much after this film – she retired in the 1940’s – it’s easy to recognize her deep talent. She had an expressive face and personality. Her performance in this film is memorizing.

Also, how great is her name? Just imagine introducing yourself as Nova Pilbeam. Talk about original.

 

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Meet-cute time. 

Similarly, Derrick De Marney is also ridiculously likeable in this film. The way he looks at Pilbeam should make any girl swoon. Or, I should say, it makes THIS girl swoon. Robert is witty and snarky, but sweet and he makes it clear early on, that he’ll do anything for Pilbeam’s Erica.

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#SWOON

The Script

The script was adapted from a mystery novel called A Shilling for Candles which was written by Josephine Tay. Several writers worked on the script including Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, Anthony Armstrong, Gerald Savory and Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville. Still, with so many cooks, the script turned out quite strong. It was curt and to the point, while still having wonderful, snappy dialogue.

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Erica’s one tough broad…#WittyGirl

The cinematography

One of Hitchcock’s greatest strengths was in knowing how to tell a story visually. Since he started in the days of silent films, he was used to it. Thus, his shots were more dynamic. He was interested in putting you in the character’s shoes – small looks where decisions were being made. He teamed with cinematographer Bernard Knowles on Young and Innocent, who also shot The 39 Steps.

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Such an expressive face Ms. Pilbeam had…

Additionally, I think Hitchcock’s use of models was very interesting. He believed that whether the setting was “real” or not was of little importance. If the audience believed in the characters and the plot, then what did it matter?

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Real people in that car? I don’t think so…

BONUS: If you’re at all interested in Hitchcock, I think you’ll find this clip interesting. In it, he discusses visual storytelling and it’s fascinating.

 

The Romance

The romance is really the center of this film, although, of course, it’s all implied. The chemistry of Pilbeam and De Marney carries the film, even though shooting it wasn’t always so easy. Hitchcock wanted the scenes to be fast and he would apparently time them. Also, it was Pilbeam’s first romantic role.

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THIS SCENE THOUGH. #HeartSwelling

It’s frothy, light, suspenseful fun

Nova Pilbeam, who passed away only last year, was interviewed in 1990. She recalled seeing the film in a theater with her daughter years after she made it, saying, “What amazed me was that, firstly, the cinema was full and, secondly, it was full of young people. I would have thought that “Young and Innocent” was a very dated film, yet they seemed to find it fascinating” (Pilbeam). Great films and performances are never old. The same goes for Hitchcock himself. His films will surely be remembered as long as cinema is alive.

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Light and frothy fun…

The film is now in the public domain and as such, is available to watch on Youtube for free. I found one that is wonderful quality. Enjoy the film and let me know what you think of it in the comments!

 

P.S.  – If you’re looking for Hitch’s cameo….

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I spy…

Happy birthday, Hitch! 🎉

The Angsty Magic of ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’

I remember a stray Friday night in my preteen years roaming around our neighborhood Blockbuster with my family. For all you youngins out there, Blockbuster is a place where people used to go and pick out one movie to watch because they couldn’t just look it up on their computer or smartphone…okay rant over. I saw the cover for Some Kind of Wonderful and showed it to my dad – he nodded and said, “Yeah, you’d like it.”

At this point, I had already seen the other John Hughes staples – Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles. Although I loved them, once I saw Some Kind of Wonderful, it blew them all out of the water. My twelve year-old self related to Keith (Eric Stoltz) more than I related to any of Molly Ringwald’s characters.

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Misfits = RELATABLE

If you’ve never seen Some Kind of Wonderful, here’s the 411. The film was made in 1987 and was written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch (who, at the time, had only directed Pretty in Pink). It is said that Hughes wrote the film partly because he was upset about how Pretty in Pink turned out. Both films follow the ‘best friend secretly in love archetype’ but the way they end is, shall we say, DIFFERENT.

Some Kind of Wonderful follows Keith (Eric Stoltz), a quiet artist-type, and his best friend Watts (Mary Stuart-Masterson), a tomboy with a bit of a crush. *Cough Cough* Meanwhile, Keith becomes interested in Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), a beautiful and popular girl at school. Class wars and teen drama ensues. Oh, and all that 80’s stuff too!

Here are just a few reasons why I’m still in love with Some Kind of Wonderful‘s angsty magic:

The Cast

The cast is EVERYTHING in this film. Eric Stoltz, who is famously known to have been the original Marty McFly in Back to the Future before being replaced by Michael J. Fox, plays Keith, a loner artist with a big heart. Apparently, filming was a bit contentious as director Howard Deutch and Stoltz did not get along. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine the film without Stoltz’s quiet charm.

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There’s something about his hair…amiright?

Lea Thompson, known for her role in Back to the Future and more recently, Switched at Birth, wasn’t particularly interested in the part. Howard the Duck, which she had starred in, had just been released. It was one of the biggest flops in film history. Stoltz apparently biked up Laurel Canyon to give her the script and urge her to play the role. And good thing she did, because she sorta kinda met her husband on the project, one Howard Deutch. That’s right, folks. She married the director. Like Stoltz, Lea was understated and obviously gorgeous – the perfect fit for Amanda Jones.

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Me too, Lea, me too!

Mary Stuart-Masterson was quite the revelation as Watts. She could play tough, while also exposing her vulnerability. With her short hair and don’t care attitude, she was pretty much my preteen hero, or heroine, as it were!

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Her one-liners were killer!

The perfect casting extends into supporting characters. Elias Koteas is wonderful as the bully-turned-friend. He gives what could have been a throw away part, personality, and makes Duncan memorable and truly hilarious!

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Personality incarnate

Maddie Corman was perfect as Keith’s sister Laura. I’m embarrassed to say I related to her character a bit too much – she was a bit of a tattler. But, she did have some great one-liners. Her story is very interesting. She was a teenage actress and she went in to audition for the part in Some Kind of Wonderful during her mother’s battle with cancer. Knowing her mother was dying, she lied and told her she had gotten the part when, of course, she didn’t know that. She, of course, did get it and she’s brilliant.

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Might be my favorite line…

Craig Sheffer is also wonderful as Hardy Jenns, the villain of our tale. He’s Amanda’s asshole boyfriend. He cheats on her, treats her like dirt, but he’s still kinda charming.

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What a LINE.

You also might notice little Candace Cameron Bure as Keith’s youngest sister. Not a big part, but definitely some memorable moments…

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Full House was just a glint in her eye…

The Script

John Hughes wrote an amazing script. It wasn’t just filled with brilliant one-liners, though, of course, it had those! Hughes had an amazing talent for writing teenagers. He didn’t talk down to the audience and as such, his films still hold up today. Obviously, they’re very rooted in the time they were made, but when you think of the other films and filmmakers he inspired, it’s remarkable.

Additionally, I loved how he wrote the Amanda Jones character. She’s working class, beautiful, insecure, popular, sweet. In other words, she’s complex, like a REAL PERSON.

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I’m still wondering how they got into The Hollywood Bowl…

The parent dynamics were also great. Now, obviously, this is not new ground teen movie-wise, but I love the conflict between Keith and his dad. Keith’s dad wants him to go to college; Keith has different priorities.

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How many of us said something similar to our parents at 18??

The Soundtrack

The soundtrack is incredible and inextricable from the film. Like Hughes’ other films, the soundtrack serves as another character, giving the characters and their world life! Two of my favorites from the soundtrack are below: the March Violets cover of “Miss Amanda Jones” and Lick the Tins’ cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

The Romance

Like most films of this kind, the end is a couple getting together. It’s about the journey getting there. And what a fun, angsty journey it is!

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The despair!
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Can someone say DUHHHH?
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I love this line and know I could never say it to someone without them laughing. HA
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Probably one of the hottest kisses in film history…

While there is truth in it, I found that the best friend trope is really just that, a trope. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy it. I just don’t think it’s as real as my preteen self did. The ending of this film ALWAYS gets me. I cry happy tears, cause I can’t NOT.

 

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Already crying just looking at this GIF. 

The Nostalgia Factor

I saw this movie as a preteen and it made a huge impression on me. Obviously, I wasn’t born until 1992, so this was before my time. But, for all its flaws, I love this film unabashedly.

If a film still resonates, has it really aged?

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Ah, 1987. I was just a glint in my parents’ eyes…

Random Tidbits

A few years back, when I had just moved to Los Angeles, I remember seeing Some Kind of Wonderful on the American Cinematheque’s schedule. Unfortunately, I had no car that summer and also no friends willing to accompany me. I still haven’t forgiven myself for missing it. Lea Thompson and Howard Deutch were both there!

Their daughter, Zoey Deutch is now a star in her own right – however, it’s clear, having Lea and Howard as parents, she was born for this! She recently starred in Richard Linklater’s last film, Everybody Wants Some.

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Howard Deutch, Zoey Deutch and Lea Thompson pose together as the Alzheimer’s Association gathers to celebrate the 19th Annual Night at Sardi’s at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. on March 16, 2011 (Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

The film captured the awkwardness of romance in high school. No doubt that its zingers definitely inspired the too-sophisticated dialogue of Dawson’s Creek which came a decade later. If you’re looking for an angsty, romantic, Saturday night watch, Some Kind of Wonderful is one of the best and certainly one of my all time favorites!

Vintage trailer below:

 

Why ‘West Side Story’ is Still Relevant

I’ve mentioned several times before how much I love living in LA…mostly because of the cool movie events which are held all year round.On Monday, July 18th, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screened a 70mm print of the 1961 movie musical West Side Story. Better yet, there was a panel with Walter Mirisch (the producer), George Chakiris (Bernardo), Russ Tamblyn (Riff), and Maria Jimenez Henley (one of the dancers).

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Walter Mirisch (Producer), George Chakiris (Bernardo), Russ Tamblyn (Riff), and Maria Jimenez Henley (dancer) at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Monday, July 18th 2016

Before we get to the panel, though, let me talk about the film. I was introduced to West Side Story as a little girl and though I don’t remember exactly how old I was, I do remember how affected I was by it. I also remember wanting to sing and dance like they could. At my young age, I didn’t realize how unrealistic a goal that was. The dancing was so intricate, the movie had months of rehearsal and of course, the singing of the main stars was dubbed.

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Man, those JETS. #DanceGoals

On a purely cinematic level, this film falls into the same category as Gone with the Wind. West Side Story is a film made to be seen on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still great on a television. But, being in an audience, watching this film is a totally different experience. It’s a shared experience: people cheer, people cry. It’s completely absorbing. The film is, of course, based on the Broadway show of the same name. Walter Mirisch, the producer, saw the show with his wife and knew he had to make it. It may, story-wise, be a musical version of Romeo and Juliet, but at the same time, it’s so much more. The songs are still good, even almost sixty years later.

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This song was EVERYTHING to me.

If you’ve never seen West Side Story, here are just a few reasons you might want to get watch it…LIKE NOW.

The Cast

Natalie Wood was 23 years old when she played Maria. Her latest movie, Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass, caught the attention of producer Walter Mirisch. It is said that Natalie desperately wanted her Splendor co-star, Warren Beatty to get the part of Tony. As such, during filming, there was apparently some resentment towards Richard Beymer who ended up playing Tony. Still, Natalie’s performance sells the film. She had something truly special, some sort of an indescribable “it” factor that made her appealing, truthful and memorable.

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That dress though! #FashionGoals

Truly, Beymer was probably a bit miscast, but looking back on the film, his not being an exact fit doesn’t mar it. Russ Tamblyn is wonderful as Riff, the leader of the Jets. Side note: Russ has a famous daughter, one Amber Tamblyn – she starred in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. George Chakiris won an Oscar for his performance as Bernardo, Maria’s Puerto Rican brother and the leader of the Sharks. Finally, Rita Moreno won on Oscar for her role as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s confidante.

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Just look at that color! 

The Romance

True, Maria and Tony only know each other for about five minutes before deciding that their love is FOREVER, but I personally can’t help but swoon. The songs help…

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Aw, first love and all that!

The Songs

The music, to me, is still the best part of West Side Story. The songs are catchy and sweeping and meaningful. Besides Ragtime, West Side Story is my favorite musical – Somewhere, I feel Pretty, Tonight, Maria…THEY’RE ALL AMAZING.

Shout Out to Marni Nixon who just passed away. She was the singing voice for Natalie Wood in the film. She also sung for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Debra Kerr in The King and I. The video below illustrates Natalie’s voice versus Marni’s. Natalie wasn’t bad, but Marni was incredible!

My FAVORITE Song:

The Message

During the panel, Walter Mirisch was asked about what he’s most proud of with the film. This was his brilliant response:

“I thought this was an extraordinary opportunity to say something about racial relations in America and to say it in a way that would bring audiences in to see it, and perhaps benefit from the lesson of West Side Story. As you see it now, and connect it with what is happening every week now, it is more topical I think, even than it was at that time. My efforts in this direction also included my film In The Heat Of The Night, which I hoped would also reach people with the necessity for the races to come together and stop this senseless warfare. It is discouraging that this lesson still not has been learned and I hope others will continue to fight that battle.” – Walter Mirisch, Producer

 Watching the film in a theater, I found that certain lines had a new connotation. For instance, when Lieutenant Schrank, breaks up the Jets and the Sharks’ war council. He tells Bernardo and the Sharks to get out and says, “Oh, I know. It’s a free country and I ain’t got the right. But I got a badge. What’ve you got?” The audience audibly gasped when he said that, no doubt thinking of recent events and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

I got a badge

When Anita goes to give Tony a message at Doc’s store and is harassed, the audience also responded, disgusted.

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One of the most powerful scenes in the film.
In these past few months of crazy violence and the horrific Orlando shooting, West Side Story is more relevant than its ever been. The film’s true message is tolerance and unfortunately, that’s a lesson that still desperately needs to be taught today.
You can sub in any race, ethnicity, sexual orientation…and the story still works. To me, that’s the mark of a true classic film. Yes, it’s rooted in the time it was made, of course. But, young people can still watch the movie today and relate and that’s pretty special.
The film’s last scene always gets me, especially Natalie Wood’s performance. I can’t NOT cry. 😭
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An illustration of how destructive hate is…
What I Learned from the Panel
  • George Chikiras (aka Bernardo) actually played Riff originally in the musical’s London production. For the film, he auditioned for both, but they felt he was more right for Bernardo.
  • Similarly, Russ Tamblyn (aka Riff) originally auditioned for Tony. It was down to Richard Beymer and himself for the part. When Beymer got it, they offered Russ the role of Riff.
  • Maria  Jimenez Henley (one of the dancers) gave the audience an amazing treat when she told her story. She was a young dancer, just 17, somehow got in to audition for West Side Story. After months of auditions, she got the part. That night, her appendix burst and she was rushed into surgery. Her mom told her she needed time to recover, but Maria knew that if she lost this opportunity, she would regret it. So, that Monday, she went to the first rehearsal and danced so hard that at the end of the day, she noticed blood on the floor. She had ripped all her stitches. They let her stay in it and she said it was the biggest blessing for her – she grew up with her West Side family, went through marriages, divorces, kids, death, all of it. She also told the audience never to give up on your dreams or think you can’t accomplish something. It’s fair to say everyone was moved by her story.
  • Jerome Robbins, the film’s choreographer, wanted to shoot the film completely on a stage. Theater was his medium and that’s where he felt most comfortable. However, Mirisch knew that the film would have more impact if it was shot on real streets. So, he told Jerome that if he wasn’t satisfied with the way the scenes turned out, they would pay to go back and shoot them on a stage. Mirisch added – little did Jerome know, they didn’t have the money for that!

I’ve loved this movie since I was a child. It is a true example of what film can do and its messages are just as relevant today as they ever were. If you’ve never seen it, I highly urge you to give it a try. I swear, you won’t be disappointed. Seriously, if you are disappointed…take it up with me!  Ha.

Vintage trailer below:

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If only gangs were like this, just snapping their fingers, singing a song…

 

 

Zeffirelli’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’…AKA the one with Zac Efron’s Doppelganger

As a teenager, I was, of course, forced to watch Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in my English class. I remember it quite well because I had already seen the movie several times and as such, was personally annoyed each time a boy in class snickered. I may have given one of them a lecture on the subject…though of course, I can’t quite*cough* remember.

I first saw the film when I was thirteen. In fact, I’m fairly sure it was around the same time I first watched Titanic – which is fitting considering the stories are quite similar. On a story level, there is no new ground covered in this film. There have been countless Romeo and Juliet adaptations, another notable one being made in 1936 with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard. Let’s just say, at the ages of 43 and 34, respectively, they weren’t exactly teenagers.

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Zeffirelli’s version of the film is an undisputed classic. It tells the story in an artful, beautiful way and a major part of that is because of its young stars: Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. Olivia was only 15 when she shot the film, which is coincidentally, the age that Juliet is actually supposed to be. Whiting was 17, just a few years older. He also now can’t not be compared to actor Zac Efron. He’s basically the British Zac Efron, at least in look.

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I mean, that’s Zac Efron, right??

Since 1968, the story has been adapted in film several more times. Most recently, there was a film version made in 2013 starring Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld and helmed by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. While there was nothing wrong with the adaptation, there was nothing that really set it apart. Conversely, many people fell in love with the 1996 adaptation which starred Leo Dicaprio and Claire Danes. Despite loving its two leads, I was not a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s take on the story; though, I do give him credit for doing something different.

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1996 Adaptation

To me, the 1968 version of the film is best classic adaptation. It tells the story very simply, but it’s fresh and fun and accessible. Here are just a few reasons you should watch even if you don’t have an English teacher forcing you to…

THE MUSIC

I know, I know. I mention music in all my posts. Well, what can I say? Music is a huge part of a movie experience. Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is no exception. The score by Nino Rota is absolutely beautiful. My favorite song below: “What is a youth?”

THE CAST

So, I’ve already spoken a bit about Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. They were spectacular in their roles, especially Olivia. She comes off extremely genuine and I think a huge part of that was that she was brand new. Whiting was equally unpolished and real. The film also has some great character actors in supporting roles. The most notable include Michael York’s performance as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, Pat Heywood as The Nurse, and John McEnery as Mercutio.

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THE LANGUAGE

I know this film didn’t create the words. Shakespeare did, but just like Aaron Sorkin, his words were written to be performed and they are performed so well in this film. It just makes me sad…can we please go back to talking this eloquently?

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RANDOM TIDBITS

Funny story. So, apparently, many young people were not allowed to see the film due to the one scene of brief nudity – Olivia’s breasts flash on screen for quite literally a second. She apparently wasn’t allowed to go to the premiere either because of it. I mean, I could see how detrimental it would be to see YOUR OWN BREASTS onscreen. Ha. Oh, the drama!

Also, director Franco Zeffirelli had already directed one of Shakespeare’s other plays for the big screen. He made Taming of the Shrew with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor just a year earlier.

Oh, and SUPER RANDOM TIDBIT, Olivia Hussey’s daughter is now an actress as well. Her name is India Eisley.  Her most notable role was in ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager as Shailene Woodley’s rebellious younger sister. Suffice it to say, India has a lot of her mom’s chutzpah!

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Olivia Hussey and her daughter, India Eisley

IT WAS A CRITICAL AND CULTURAL SUCCESS

The film was well received by both the critics and audiences around the world.

“…it has the passion, the sweat, the violence, the poetry, the love and the tragedy in the most immediate terms I can imagine. It is a deeply moving piece of entertainment, and that is possibly what Shakespeare would have preferred” (Roger Ebert).

But, more than that, the film has stayed alive through new young audiences. Olivia Hussey described this at a 40th anniversary screening of the film where she said she still gets letters from young teenagers who have just seen this film and it’s inspiring.

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I was lucky enough to see this movie as a young adolescent and it stayed with me. While I’ve grown up and realized maybe it’s not as romantic as I initially thought (I mean, they both die!), I still love the film and feel that it never gets old.

To all those boys who snickered in my English class: Well first of all, you’re jerks. And secondly, I hope you’ve grown into men who can appreciate this classic film. 😉

Also, how cute are they?

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Vintage trailer below: