10/24/12: My Week With Marilyn

“Everyone remembers their first job. This is the story of Colin Clark’s: The youngest in a family of overachievers. His father was a world-famous art historian; his brother was ahead of him in everything. He was always the disappointment.”

Simon Curtis’ drama, My Week With Marilyn, details a week in the life of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year-old recent college graduate whose dream of becoming a filmmaker runs contrary to his parents’ wishes. His father hopes he’ll take a job as a researcher at the world-famous Victoria & Albert Museum in London when he “[grows] up a bit & [gets] “this film idea out of [his] system”. When Colin learns of the impending London filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, he heads there & is resigned to hang around the set doing whatever he can for no pay just to get his feet in the backstage door. The Prince (and Director) is Sir Laurence Olivier played wonderfully by Kenneth Branagh. My first reaction was that he’s too big to play the slight Oliver, but his characterization is so spot on that my disbelief was suspended almost immediately. The Showgirl (and Co-Executive Producer) is Marilyn Monroe, and Michelle Williams has her looks & mannerisms as both Marilyn & Norma Jean DOWN! Because of Colin’s eagerness to do anything for the film & filmmaker, he soon lands a job as 3rd Assistant Director & his week begins. Adrian Hodges’ screenplay is adapted from the real Colin Clark’s two non-fiction books, “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me”.

      

Marilyn is protected & coddled. Her notorious drug & alcohol addictions are sustained by her business partner & Co-Executive Producer, Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper). Marilyn studied The Method under Lee Strasberg & her coach, Lee’s wife Paula (Zoë Wanamaker), accompanies her & is with her constantly during rehearsal & filming – always lavishing her with compliments irrespective of the quality the performance. This is one source of tremendous irritation to Olivier, an extremely vocal critic of The Method. He cannot help but remember how brilliant his wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) is in the role on stage. But the screen version requires a younger, sexier Showgirl. Colin is Assistant Director David Orton’s (Robert Portal) doormat. But Marilyn adores him & Sir Laurence thinks he is a go-getter. Dame Sybil Thorndike, the supporting actress in The Prince, provides needed balance to the various character’s contradictory treatment of Colin & Marilyn. Dame Judi Dench is stunning in this role. And finally, Wardrobe Girl, Lucy (Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films), is bewitching to Colin until he meets Marilyn.

My Week With Marilyn is a film about youthful exuberance, infatuation, the sexual revolution, the changing of the guard, and addiction. It’s flirtatious & tasteful. It’s joyous & sad. It shows Marilyn, the manipulated sex symbol whose star shone bright because of her talent – her overwhelming command of any sound stage or screen she graced, whether accompanied by Sir Laurence Olivier, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Vivien Lee or Colin Clark!

My Week With Marilyn received 2 Oscar nominations earlier this year at the 84th Academy Awards: Michelle Williams for Best Actress and Kenneth Branagh for Supporting Actor. It was Michelle’s third nomination & Kenneth’s fifth. Neither has yet to take home a statue. Michelle’s previous nominations were for Blue Valentine (Actress) the year before, and Brokeback Mountain (Supporting Actress) in 2006. Branagh’s nominations have all been for different Oscars: Adapted Screenplay (Hamlet in ’96); Live Action Short (Swan Song in ’92); and Actor & Director (Henry V in ’89). The only other nominee in 5 different categories is George Clooney who won for Supporting Actor in 2005  for his role as Bob Barnes in Syriana.

Branagh’s career is an eerie shadow of Olivier’s. Olivier starred in Stuart Burge’s Othello in 1965; Branagh played Iago in Oliver Parker’s version 30 years later. Both directed & starred in Hamlet – Olivier was Best Actor (his only non-Honorary Academy Award) & nominated as Director in 1949 at the 21st Academy Awards. Olivier directed, helped adapt the screenplay for & starred in Henry V in 1944 (he received an Honorary Oscar in 1947 for outstanding achievement as an actor, producer & director in bringing it to the screen – he was not credited for the screenplay); Branagh was unassisted in adapting his screenplay. Olivier was nominated for Best Actor in 1973 as Andrew Wyke in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Sleuth at the 45th Academy Awards; in 2007, Branagh directed, was main producer for, and played an uncredited cameo role in the remake.

While I’m not about to knight Kenneth Branagh as the next Laurence Oliver – widely regarded as one of the greatest actors in the history of motion pictures – his performance is masterful. This is a wonderful, uplifting, not to be missed movie. Whether you’re a fan of Marilyn’s compelling personality or sexiness; advocate or question The Method; long to be Prospero or to join the circus: See it! 4 Stars.

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10/23/12: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

“The ghosts are moving today,…restless… hungry. May I introduce myself? I’m Paulie Marino. In just a moment you can watch a movie about the only really haunted house in the world.” You’ll find it in William Castle’s 1959 cult thriller, House on Haunted Hill. It stars Vincent Price as Frederick Loren, an extremely wealthy, middle-aged man hosting a party at a mansion that he & his beautiful wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) have rented for a night. The mansion, rumored to be haunted, was the site of 7 murders over the years – 4 men & 3 women.

It’s so spooky there that the 5 invited guests are being offered a reward of $10,000 each if they come to the party & stay overnight. None of the guests have ever met Frederick, come from different walks of life, and have nothing in common except that each needs money. There’s Watson Pritchard, played by Elisha Cook Jr. (billed as Elisha Cook) who owns the house. Cook was a noted character actor who’s been in hundreds of television shows & movies, including Rosemary’s Baby, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Stanley Kubrick’s film noir classic The Killing. Test pilot Lance Schroeder is played by Richard Long, best known as Professor Everett in the early 70’s TV show Nanny & the Professor. Julie Mitchum plays Ruth Bridges, a famous journalist with a gambling problem. Psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshall) needs money to fund his research into hysteria. And the beautiful, youthful Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig). She supports her whole family on the salary she makes as an employee of Mr. Loren’s. A haunted mansion…the site of 7 murders…4 men & 3 women…inhabited overnight by 4 men & 3 women!!!

House on Haunted Hill contains many of the traditional characteristics of horrors films: A haunted mansion on a hill; a clock striking midnight; it takes place only at night; there’s murder; ghosts & skeletons; no lights, no phone & no way to escape; shrill female screams; and a rich, eccentric man. The major themes of the movie are obvious after seeing it, but to discuss them here would effectively be a spoiler.

There are a number of interesting facts surrounding House on Haunted Hill. The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Ennis House in Los Angeles is used for the exterior shots of the mansion. Even though it was made on a budget of just $200,000, it was a big box office hit in 1959. The great Alfred Hitchcock took notice and it inspired him to make his very first horror movie released the following year: Psycho, made for just over $800,000, went on to receive 4 Academy Award nominations. House on Haunted Hill was also the inspiration for Robert Moore’s 1976 comedy, Murder by Death, whose original screenplay was written by Neil Simon. And in 1999, a bad remake of it was released & it spawned 2 sequels. Carolyn Craig, who had not yet turned 24 during the 2 weeks of filming, apparently shot herself to death when she was 36. Julie Mitchum is listed as playing Ruth Bridgers not Bridges in the end credits, and a prop, Skeleton, is also credited as being played by By Himself. See if you can catch it. When the film was released in theaters, it came with a lighted plastic skeleton attached to a wire in a box. It was stored beside the screen and, at the appropriate time, lifted & maneuvered above the audience. When the word got out, the effect was pulled from many theaters because kids began shooting at it w/ their slingshots.

    

House on Haunted Hill is a cult horror classic, not a great movie, but not to be missed. It’s the haunted house equivalent of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The 2 Stars I’m giving it do not begin to tell its spooky story. “If I were gonna haunt somebody, this would certainly be the house I’d do it in.”

10/20/12: Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Paulie Marino. “And I’d better get some laughs this time or I’ll be collecting unemployment insurance.” Today’s Blog is dedicated to my beautiful wife, Cindy, who married me 29 years ago today.

   

Though I wrote the Blog today, 10/22/12, I screened William Beaudine’s 1952 comedy, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla on Saturday 10/20/12. Coincidentally, it was Bela Lugosi’s birthday. He would have turned 130. The movie stars, of course, Bela Lugosi, who is not included anywhere in the credits. The producers decided that the title’s billing was sufficient. And, interestingly, he doesn’t play himself per se (although he characterizes himself as Count Dracula a couple of times). He plays mad scientist, Dr. Zabor, who lives on the jungle island Kola Kola performing evolutionary & devolutionary experiments on primates. His co-stars are Duke Mitchell & Sammy Petrillo as themselves doing ‘their act’, which is a blatant impersonation of another comedy team of the era, Deam Martin & Jerry Lewis. Lewis, in fact, sued Petrillo for copying his act, but later dropped the suit. This is the only film the pair made together. Both are accurately given ‘Introducing’ credits. It was Petrillo’s premiere and, although it was Mitchell’s second film, he was uncredited in his first. Fred Rose & Walter Hirsch’s 1926 jazz classic, Deed I Do, is used by Mitchell & Petrillo thematically throughout the movie. Interestingly, that tune was the first song on which Benny Goodman recorded, in the third version released for the 1926 holiday season.

The duo end up on the island accidentally when they fall out of a plane on their way to a show for the troops stationed in Guam. They’re forced to use their parachutes & the film opens with them being captured by a friendly tribe. The chief’s daughter, Nona, is played by the gorgeous journeywoman Charlita – both Dr. Zabor & Duke’s love interest. Petrillo, in the meantime, is being pursued by Nona’s overweight sister, Saloma (Muriel Landers). Perhaps my favorite performance is turned in by the chimp, Ramona. You may know her better as Cheetah.

    

Even though it’s goofy & funny in parts, there are no accolades for Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. It’s largely panned & deservedly so. It’s worth a look, if for no other reason, to see just how embarrassingly plagiaristic Mitchell & Petrillo’s act really is. Further, if you’ve never seen a film with Lugosi, you should check it out. His acting career spanned 43 years from the silent era to Ed Wood’s cult classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space, released in 1959 – 3 years after he died. On 2/8/60, the Hungarian born Lugosi was awarded a Motion Picture Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The set director for the movie was Edward G. Boyle, credited as Edward Boyle.  He was nominated for 7 Best Art & Set Direction Oscars, winning for The Apartment in 1961 at the 33rd Academy Awards.

I’ve linked the full movie below.was filmed in just nine days on a budget of $50,000.When you watch it, you won’t be surprised. 1 Star!!!

10/16/12: The World’s Fastest Indian

“You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat out than some people live in a lifetime”

Roger Donaldson’s uplifting docudrama The World’s Fastest Indian, released in 2005, is a fascinating & joyous piece starring Oscar Winner Anthony Hopkins as the late land-speed motorcycle pioneer, Burt Munro. As usual, Hopkins is wonderful. It’s 1962 & Burt lives in Invercargill, New Zealand. He’s a 63-year-old, self-made engineer/motorcycle mechanic/tinkerer whose passion is perfecting his 1920 Indian Motorcycle for land-speed racing. His methods are as eccentric as his personality, using household goods & junk parts to streamline & reduce weight on his motorcycle (which he pronounces motorsickle), including a cork for a gas cap. His best friend is the 10-year-old neighbor boy, Tom (Aaron Murphy). His lifestyle is equally as quaint & eccentric & gross – showering is seemingly off limits; his love interest, Ada, played to perfection in a smallish role by Diane Ladd, asks him to wash his hands, and they’re visibly filthy in many shots; and his lawn has gone to seed & stands over 5 feet high.

But Burt is lovable & loving, and completely focused on getting to the Bonneville Salt Flats for 1962 Speed Week, but he has financial difficulty. He manages with the help of some friends to get passage to America for him & his motorcycle. And so the journey begins.  First stop, L.A. where he meets used car shop owner, Fernando, played nicely by comedian Paul Rodriguez. The shop is in a somewhat shady neighborhood, but the two help each other & we begin to see just how tolerant Burt is. En route to Bonneville, he meets Native American – what he calls an Indian in this period piece – Jake (Saginaw Grant) who gives him dried dog balls for his aching prostate, for which Burt is surprised but not shocked or outraged. And thankful! But when he gets to Vegas & meets transvestite, by-the-hour motel clerk, Tina (Chris Williams), and thinks nothing of it, he endears everyone not in the film in the same way he does the characters. One more performance of note: Jessica Cauffiel as Wendy is just adorable in this, her only good role to date. She’s young & cute and just loves Burt. When she sets up a little ad hoc party to honor him at Bonneville, Burt’s overwhelmed and does a little dance that captures the entire spirit of this fantastic motion picture in 10 seconds.

A couple of points of interest: Donaldson’s fascination w/ Munro is more than just passing. His directorial debut came in 1971 for the TV documentary short, Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed. And, the mayor of Invercargill at filming & still today, Tim Shadbolt, has a small role as an Invercargill motorcycle community member & friend of Burt’s.

    

The World’s Fastest Indian is one of the most underrated movies in recent memory. It received exactly zero Academy Award nominations, and while it did have the misfortune of being released in the best Oscar year of the century, it minimally deserved one. Best Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing amongst others come to mind. The film made its debut in L.A. on 12/7/05 and therefore qualifies for nomination under the Official Academy Awards Rule 2 (an English language feature film must be at least 40 minutes long, open in the previous calendar year in L.A. county, and be in any one of several proper formats – which I assume it was). The only explanation for this outrageous snub is that the none of the 10 producers submitted the Official Screen Credits Online Form by the defined deadline, which would make the film forever ineligible for Oscar consideration.

“But sometimes you’ve got to bend the rules a little”

10/14/12: Dark Victory (1939)

“Nothing can hurt us now. That’s our victory. Our victory over the dark!”

Edmund Goulding’s 1939 classic, Dark Victory, stars Bette Davis as Judith Traherne, a wealthy 23-year-old Long Island socialite speeding through life in the New York fast lane. Her passions are her prized steeplechase colt Challenger, going to & hosting parties, and playing bridge. The film is based on George Emerson Brewer, Jr. & Bertram Bloch’s Broadway play of the same name. The play, which starred Tallulah Bankhead, was panned and closed on 12/1/34, just 24 days after opening night. The film, on the other hand, went on to become one of the great motion pictures from 1939, the greatest movie year of all time. A year which included: Gone With the Wind; The Wizard of Oz; Stagecoach; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Wuthering Heights; Of Mice & Men; Gunga Din; Young Mr. Lincoln; The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Goodbye Mr. Chips; and The Rules of the Game.

Although Judith has a lust for life & thoroughly relishes her every moment, she has chronic headaches & experiences problems seeing. When she gets double vision while running Challenger & falls off him, her best friend & secretary Ann (played wonderfully by Geraldine Fitzgerald) becomes very concerned & calls her doctor – noted character actor Henry Travers, perhaps best known as Apprentice Angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life. He schedules her to see brain specialist, Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent). Although Dr. Steele was in the middle of closing his practice & heading for a train to begin his new career as a researcher in Vermont, when he notices cigarette burns on Judy’s right hand, he examines her. Challenger’s trainer, Michael, is Humphrey Bogart. He’s doesn’t turn in a pedestrian performance but isn’t exactly Rick Blaine yet either. And a young, handsome Ronald Reagan plays Alec, Judy’s happy-go-lucky, alcoholic friend.

Dark Victory was nominated for 3 Oscars in 1940 at the 12th Academy Awards: Best Picture; Actress; and the incredible Max Steiner’s Score. Steiner was nominated 24 times including 3 wins. Davis received 11 nominations in her lifetime, including an unofficial write-in nomination for Of Human Bondage, winning twice. In all, Steiner composed the score for 21 of the movies in which Bette Davis acted. Davis was a perfectionist and notoriously difficult to work with. She wanted the final dramatic scene in Dark Victory to be unaccompanied by music, but Goulding overruled her.

Davis claimed that Dark Victory took only 4 weeks to film, and that Judith Traherne was her favorite role to play even though she suffered a nervous breakdown during filming as her marriage to Harmon Nelson dissolved. She drowned her sorrows by having an affair with Brent.

While Dark Victory is a second tier film for 1939, very few movies released today that win Best Picture are its equal. It’s honor was that it was released that year; its misfortune, as well. All 11 of the aforementioned ’39’s are required reading. Most of us have already seen Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Few, perhaps, have had the opportunity to screen Dark Victory. It should be at the top of your 39’s to see. And tomorrow, it should no longer be on that list! 4 stars!!

10/10/12: Memoirs of a Geisha

Geisha [As older Japanese woman] “We must not expect happiness. When life goes well, it is a sudden gift. It is not something we deserve. We must cherish beauty. It cannot last forever. The heart, like the body of a pretty young woman, dies a slow death. Shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none: No hopes; nothing remains. I know. I was a stunning Playboy Bunny once. But that was a long, long, long, long time ago. This was me at party on 10/29/77. Bunny My beauty: It is lost forever. As a little girl, I found a cave in the woods that I would go to for solitude. MOAG - Cave There was a poem called Loss carved into one of the cave walls. It had 3 words, but the poet scratched them out. MOAG - Poem You cannot read Loss – only feel it. 39 years ago, I was on my way to Theater. I was a lovely young girl with a chance for happiness. I hope it is not too late. Don’t be afraid to look at me. Can’t you still see the enchanting girl in black? Do not be sad that time has taken its toll on her. It is too pretty a day to be unhappy. Smile for me, won’t you? I am not worthless! In the last act, we sell our skills, not our bodies. We must create our own secret world, our own Cave of Solitude: A place only of beauty. A story like mine should never be told. I wasn’t born a Performance Artist Blogger. Like so much in my life, I was carried here by the current. To be a Performance Artist Blogger is to be like a Geisha: To be judged as a moving work of art. But now Paulie paints her face to hide her face. Paulie is an Artist of the Floating World. She entertains you; whatever you want. The rest is shadows, the rest is secret. She relates to you her stories merely to entertain. It cannot be called happiness. After all these are not the Memoirs of a Playboy Bunny. These are Memoirs of Another Kind. When I get back to my cave, I’ll remove the paint from my face with water. MOAG - Wash Water is powerful: It can carve its way through stone; MOAG - Stone wash away earth; MOAG - Mud put out fire; MOAG - Fire even produce tears:” MOAG - Cry [Dramatic] “Tears of joy; tears of grief; tears of rage; tears of years. “1 year: then another & another & another!” “In the end there’s just a song/ Comes crying up the night/Through all the broken dreams/And vanished years/ Stella Blue.”

[Normal] Costuming, makeup & hair design: The difference between an aging Geisha & a Playboy Bunny; and the keys to Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha, Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang), MOAG - Sayuri born impoverished Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo)  in 1920. Her best friend is her sister Satsu (Samantha Futerman). MOAG - Satsu The sisters get separated when she becomes Maiko (apprentice Geisha) Chiyo in Mother’s (Kaori Momoi) MOAG - Mother Okiya (Maiko & Geisha boarding house). She’s 9 when she meets the Chairman (Ken Watanabe) who’s accompanied by Geisha. When he buys her a cherry ice, MOAG - Ken she’s resolved to become a Geisha too. While Auntie (Tsai Chin) MOAG - Auntie trains her, she befriends Pumpkin (Zoe Weizenbaum & Yûki Kudô)

 & malicious Geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li)  tests her will, but she never forgets Satsu. The movie was nominated for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and John Williams Score in 2006 at the 78th Academy Awards; and won for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Colleen Atwood’s MOAG - Atwood Costume Design. Geisha didn’t wear the full lipstick portrayed in the movie until the Western influence on Japanese culture in the ‘60s, perhaps accounting for its absence as a Best Makeup Nominee, even though all 250 Atwood-created kimonos are more artistic than realistic. 67 year old Atwood won Oscars for Rob Marshall’s Chicago (’03) MOAG - Chicago and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (’11); MOAG - Alice and has 8 more nominations, her 1st in ’95 for Little Women. MOAG - LW A late film-bloomer, her 1st movie gig at 32 was Wardrobe Production Assistant on A Little Sex; MOAG - Sex first as Costume Designer – Firstborn MOAG - 1st at 35. So watch the trailer below, then add Rob Marshall’s film to your Netflix Queue to see her kimonos, the visual Memoirs of a Geisha. 4 Stars!

 

10/4/12: My Man Godfrey (1936)

“Can any of you butle? We’re fresh out of butlers. The one we had here left this morning.”

Gregory La Cava’s 1936 classic, My Man Godfrey, is based on Eric Hatch’s novel 1101 Park Avenue. It takes place during The Great Depression and tells the story of the wealthy, dysfunctional New York family, the Bullocks: Ditzy, sweet Irene (lead actress Carole Lombard); her very spoiled & mean sister Cornelia (Gail Patrick); their stern but fair Father, Alexander (Eugene Pallett); and Mother, Angelica, who’s personality is a bit of each of them (Alice Brady). Their servants: Butler Godfrey (lead actor William Powell); and maid Molly (Jean Dixon). And Mother’s protege: Shiftless & lazy Carlo (Mischa Auer) & his insatiable appetite. Molly, who is used to the Bullock craziness, is a family staple but they can’t seem to keep a butler. Until one night on a scavenger hunt, Cornelia & Irene meet Godfrey, “a forgotten man”, living at dump under the 59th Street Bridge. Godfrey instantly dislikes Cornelia, but really likes Irene. Both feelings are mutual but Irene manages to hire Godfrey as the new butler, despite Mother’s objections.

My Man Godfrey was nominated for 6 Oscars at the 9th Academy Awards, all 6 of the 7 big Awards for which it was eligible: Actor & Actress; Supporting Actor & Actress in the year the Awards were introduced, Auer & Brady; Director; and Adapted Screenplay (Hatch & Morrie Ryskind). It’s the only movie to ever get nominated for the other big 6 without being nominated for Best Picture. It’s also the only movie to ever get those 6 nominations and win none.

    

Powell & Lombard were married in 1931 & divorced in 1933, 3 years before My Man Godfrey’s release. Despite the break-up, when Powell was offered the role of Godfrey, he was adamant that Carole was the perfect Irene. 3 years later she famously married Clark Gable; 3 years after, on January 16 of 1942, Carole Lombard died tragically in a plane crash in the mountains southwest of Vegas. She was just 33 years of age.

There is a big continuity mistake in My Man Godfrey. The link to the whole movie is below. Watch to see if you can find it. And if, like me until 2 days ago, you’ve never seem this great 30’s comedy, take 95 minutes out of your day to relax & enjoy Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey. You’ll be surprised at just how current it is. 4 Stars!