"Sincerely, your favorite fan", actors, Are You Not Entertained?, Dear..., directors, Film Spotlight, movies

Dear Jane Campion,

Benedict Cumberbatch has an excellent shot at an Oscar nomination/win.

I wanted to thank you for adapting Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel and directing The Power of the Dog (2021). Your films feel like good books that beg to be analyzed. Take The Piano (1993), for instance, your signature film for the past thirty years.

I taught it in English Composition class as a visual text twenty years ago. We discussed how the piano was a character in the film. Was it not the voice of the mute protagonist Ada? Was it not a metaphor for the treatment of women in a patriarchal world in 19th century New Zealand? That is, the piano was a burden to men. It was carried, abandoned, tattooed, mutilated, and drowned at the bottom of the sea.

We compared and contrasted the spiritual connection of Ada and George Baines while the clueless colonizer Alisdair Stewart (one of Sam Neill’s best roles) attempted to control his environment, the Maori people, and his wife with disastrous results. The best character was the eight-year-old daughter, Ada. Flora was a precocious, mischievous “angel” who becomes a little demon, manipulating Christianity to punish her mother for choosing to distance their bond for another man.

You embraced the wild scenery with a passion. It was necessary for the piano to have a complex voice. Michael Nyman‘s score is still breathtaking.

Today, I’m awestruck with my favorite film of 2021. I feel compelled to write you and extend my gratitude for your adapted screenplay and direction of The Power of the Dog (2021). The emotional wrestling between the characters makes it worth many discussions. Set in Montana in the 1920s, you embraced the topography and shared to the audience the beauty and harsh realities of the cowboy culture and the ambitions of a ranching family.

Kirsten Dunst plays Rose, a fragile mother who is intimidated and close to ruin by the bossy, jealous Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch). Photos courtesy of Netflix.
Kodi Smit-McPhee, smoldering, complex, and exciting to watch.

Jane, your characters are never one-dimensional. Their motivations are hidden. Their feelings are hidden. Their narrative arcs are complete. Through the camera’s lens via close-ups, staging, and the stark lines of the setting, you flush out their feelings. To some, the characters may seem too hidden, but I’ve always been a fan of inference and subtlety. That disturbing score heightens psychological warfare. You have created a beautiful film and given me hope that the art of filmmaking has returned.

Sincerely,

Your Favorite Fan

P.S. What did Phil Burbank see in the hills? What was he staring at? Ah, the lines of the hills are hips, torsos, legs of a lover’s embrace. Perfect.

1940s, 1950s, actors, directors, Film Spotlight, Lucky 13 Film Club, movies

L13FC: Cary Grant vs. Jimmy Stewart

 

Welcome back, friends, to the Lucky 13 Film Club. What are you doing to distract yourself while in lockdown? I watched a few Alfred Hitchcock films I had missed in an attempt to fill in some blindspots. After watching Suspicion (1941) starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine and Rope (1948), I thought to feature these two leading men and consider their collaborations with Hitchcock.

Eight movies from the 1940s and 1950s. Who was better? Cary or Jimmy? What of their leading ladies? Sometimes, they outshined their man. Do the glitz and glamour endear us to the production? What of the storyline? Can you rate them? Okay, I’ll stop. But these questions swirled in my mind as I considered the eight films. Two facts are certain. Their careers benefited from working with Alfred Hitchcock. And Hitch benefited for starring them. 

Cary and Joan Fontaine in Suspicion.

CARY GRANT  

1941 Suspicion. A shy young heiress marries a charming gentleman and soon begins to suspect he is planning to murder her. Co-starring Joan Fontaine and Cedric Hardwicke. 

1945 Notorious. American spy film noir about the entanglement of three lives during an espionage operation. Co-starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. 

1955. To Catch a Thief. Retired cat burglar Cary Grant and ravishing American party girl Grace Kelly fall in love against a backdrop of fireworks, the French Riviera and a string of unsolved jewel robberies. 

1958. North by Northwest. Ad executive Roger Thornhill is pursued by a ruthless spy after Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent. He is hunted relentlessly across the United States. Co-starring Eva Marie Saint and James Mason. 

JAMES STEWART

1948 Rope. Just before hosting a dinner party, two college students strangle a mutual friend to death after their college philosophy professor inadvertently inspires them. The body hides in a chest and becomes the elephant in the room as guests eat and chatter. Co-starring Farley Granger, John Dall, and Joan Chandler.

1954 Rear Window. Confined to a wheelchair after an accident, a recuperating news photographer believes he has witnessed a murder after spying with a telephoto lens the occupants of a neighboring apartment complex. Co-starring Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr. 

1956. The Man Who Knew Too Much. A doctor and his wife are on vacation in Morocco when a chance encounter with a stranger alters their lives. The stranger reveals an assassination plot and their son is abducted. Co-starring Doris Day.  

1958 Vertigo. An ex-police officer who suffers from an intense fear of heights is hired to prevent an old friend’s wife from committing suicide, but all is not as it seems as he becomes obsessed with her. Co-starring Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. 

EDITH HEAD – collaborated with Hitchcock eleven times. I don’t think you should discount her involvement — her costumes conveyed the character’s personality and often aided in Hitchcock’s setting of mood.  Of the eight films discussed today, she was the costume designer for FIVE of them. 

Cary Grant was the dashing, cool, smooth operator. His films with Hitchcock were about movement. Chases on foot, cars driving at a cliff’s edge, somewhere to go whether a plane, train, or automobile. Jimmy Stewart’s movies with Hitchcock seemed restricted by comparison. He spends most of the plot confined by space. Of course, he does move in Vertigo and The Man Who Knew too Much, but I’d say a key feature of a Jimmy Stewart performance is he is in a constant state of waiting. Cary Grant rarely sits still in his films.  I predict if you lean toward Cary’s films, you like action and adventure. If you like Jimmy, you like the psychological angst of a man who’s in a state of high anxiety.  Alfred Hitchcock specialized in both kinds of suspense.  

Do you like your actors to be warm or cool? 

GRACE KELLY  was just too beautiful to be convincing with Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. She was better suited to stand next to Cary Grant. Their coolness and beauty mirrored each other perfectly. Doris Day was perfect as Jimmy Stewart’s wife in The Man Who Knew Too Much. She was pretty and talented and warm–better suited to the “everyday man”.  

Which was the best film for Cary and Jimmy?

When Hitchcock‘s leading pair was a combination of warm and cool, he had a masterpiece. 

James Stewart (warm) and Kim Novak (cool) in Vertigo. 

Cary Grant (warm) and Eva Marie Saint (cool) in North by Northwest

For the record, my favorite Hitchcock film is Notorious for the storyline and pairing. Mostly for my love for Ingrid Bergman and the scene-stealing acting by Claude Rains. 

Please, tell me what you think, and feel free to kindly comment on what others have to say. Thank you! 

A stunning dress by Edith Head.

Alfred Hitchcock: “Cary Grant is the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.” 

1960s, actors, movies, westerns

Burt Lancaster: A Pair of Westerns

Burt, Claudia, Lee, Robert Ryan, Woody Stole

As I grazed on a bowl of chocolate-dipped pretzels last night, it occurred to me that the movie I watched had much the same texture and flavor. The Professionals (1966) was directed by Richard Brooks. Filmed in technicolor against the crunchy backdrop of Death Valley, California, Lee Marvin, and Jack Palance were the salty bits while Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale were the sweet chocolate glaze. Who doesn’t like salty-sweet combinations? I think Brooks knew his audience and gave them what they wanted. I know I enjoyed watching Burt Lancaster scale up the side of a cliff with a rope and no stuntman and snappy one-liners like this one:

Rico (Lee Marvin): So what else is on your mind besides hundred-proof women, ‘n’ ninety-proof whiskey, ‘n’ fourteen-carat gold?

Bill Dolworth (Burt Lancaster) Amigo, you just wrote my epitaph!

The film received Academy attention for Best Direction and Screenplay (Richard Brooks), and Best Cinematography (Conrad L. Hall). The story is about a rich Texan who hires three talented mercenary misfits to rescue his beautiful wife from the Mexican bandit Jesus Raz (Jack Palance). The problem arises when the rescuers realize Mrs. Grant (Claudia Cardinale) wasn’t kidnapped by Razu, but running away from her Texan husband (Ralph Bellamy). 4/5
An easy-breezy film that triggered a memory from my youth when male relatives watched and chuckled on late Sunday morning while waiting for the football game to start.

Ulzana’s Raid (1972) is a serious tale starring an older Burt Lancaster, Richard Jaeckel, Bruce Davison and Joaquin Martinez. It is set in the late 1800s and filmed at the Arizona/Mexico border. The terrain is hard and unforgiving but there’s no sweet glaze this time to balance out the harshness of Apache savageries like gang rape, brutal killing, and torture. Burt keeps his feet on the ground and isn’t supplying witty one-liners. Instead, he’s the mentor to a young Lieutenant who grapples with preconceptions of Apache way-of-life, hatred for them, and aspiring to be an effective commander. Ulzana (Joaquín Martínez) and his men escape from the reservation station and Lt. Garnett DeBuin (Bruce Davison) is assigned to bring them in. Director Robert Aldrich takes Alan Sharp‘s script and creates a memorable film. The character Ke-ni-tay (Jorge Luke) is stuck in the middle as the soldier scout who tries to explain to Lt. DeBuin the Apache man needs the power, the essence of a man to be strong. Living on the reservation makes men weak and goes against what Apache stands for. Ke-ni-tay was the most interesting character in the story. I would have preferred to see the plot pan-out through his perspective and know his backstory. However, the film is interesting enough except for the distracting, ill-matched score by Frank De Vol. For instance, after each horrific encounter between white settlers and the Apache, the music resumed with a happy, bouncing Magnificient Seven-ish theme. If you like your westerns with bite, you would enjoy Ulzana’s Raid. 4/5 Sorry, Burt, in this film you seemed tired and uninterested.