3/31/14: The Hours


“To stay married to someone for life, one must look life right in the face; always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is. There will always be years between you. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours. I remember one morning while on our honeymoon in Puerto Rico: We got up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. But that’s not the way it works, really, is it? It was the moment right then. It was happiness!” And the same can be said about depression. “The clinically depressed don’t suddenly get up one day & say, ‘This is it. This is where it starts. This is the beginning of sadness.’” Today’s Classic Movie Blog is of Stephen Daldry’s 2002 masterpiece The Hours. The title alone tells you how important time is in the picture. It takes place over a period of about 80 years & tells the story of 3 women from 3 generations: Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) in 1923 as she’s writing Mrs. Dalloway; Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) who is reading the novel in her all-too-perfect little ‘50’s American world; and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), a New Yorker at the start of the 21st century, loves the novel. She is very much like Mrs. Dalloway in many ways. So much so, that her best friend, poet & AIDS patient Richard (Ed Harris), calls her Mrs. Dalloway. Not coincidentally, the novel’s heroine’s first name is also Clarissa. The movie is Mrs. Dalloway on 3 different levels. It deals with depression, homosexuality & suicide. Woolf committed suicide in 1941 & became clinically depressed beginning in her early teens. Laura Brown is very unhappily married to Dan (John C. Reilly), despite both his & her son Richie’s (Jack Rovello) unconditional love for her. And Richard’s depression keeps him in his apartment, where Clarissa tends to him daily.Hours - VirginiaHours - KidmanHours - DallowayHours - MooreHours - StreepHours - HarrisHours - ReillyHours - Richie 

Kidman won the Best Actress Oscar as Virginia at the 75th Academy Awards, though her role is, if anything, only slightly larger than Streep’s. The Hours was also nominated for Supporting Actor (Harris) and Actress (Moore), Director, Picture, David Hare’s Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Film Editing, and Philip Glass’ Score. But what I want to call your attention to in this film is an aspect for which it was not recognized with an Oscar nomination: Production Design. Until the year before last, the category was honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences with the Art Direction Oscar. That Award no longer exists. It was replaced in 2013 with Production Design. The Production Designer, or P.D., of a movie is the head of the Art Department, whose chief reports are the Art Director and Set Decorator. The first film with a P.D. was Victor Fleming’s Gone With the Wind: William Cameron Menzies held the position & gave himself that title. The P.D. is responsible for all the visual elements of a film that do not involve acting including: The creation of the sets; mood; lighting; realization of on-location settings; and costume design. In The Hours, Production Designer Maria Djurkovic had the daunting task of enabling us to clearly visualize 3 different times across 2 continents. Each of the stories has its own scheme: Virginia Woolf’s world is dark; Laura Brown’s is perfectly in place, or so it would seem; and Clarissa’s has elements of both. The visual mood helps us understand this complex plot, as Maria tells the story for our eyes to see: A magnificent, disturbing story of clinical depression & suicide! So first, watch the trailer below, then go to Netflix and stream the film & see if you can face Stephen Daldry’s The Hours! 4 Stars!

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3/23/14: The Shawshank Redemption


I used to work for Great Expectations Insurance. When I found out my job was being offshored, I decided to begin collecting my pension. The HR Manager – I call her Mariah Heep – said, “‘Paulie, your files say you’ve worked here 28 years. Do you feel you’re prepared for retirement?’. ‘Ya know, I don’t have any idea what that means. Do you mean am I ready to rejoin society? To me, it’s just a made up word. A bureaucrat’s word! So women like you can wear pantyhose to work. What you really want to know is if I’m I satisfied with my career? There’s not a day I regret. I know you think I should. I could have been a conformist like my boss over there.’ – I call him Adam Defarge – ‘and risen through the ranks. When I started, I was a young man who wanted a decent job so that I could afford to raise my family. That kid’s long gone & this middle-aged man is all that’s left. But I’ll still work. Retired!!” I wasn’t even tired in the first place.’ “The whole thing blew by in the blink of an eye.” “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile!” And watch some classics. “I won’t miss them cubicles though. Cubicles are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s called being financial institutionalized.”

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Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption stars Morgan Freeman as narrator Red, a murderer in Shawshank Prison who can get anything for the other inmates…for a price. Darabont also adapted the screenplay from Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Tim Robbins plays Andy, who meets & hits it off with Red as soon as he gets to Shawshank. Andy’s an educated banker in for 2 life sentences for the premeditated murder of his wife & her lover – a charge he vehemently denies. Red finds it curious that Andy wants a rock hammer since it’d take “600 years to” use it to tunnel through the wall. He also wants Red to get him a Rita Hayworth poster after they watch Gilda with some of the inmates one night. Andy’s boyish looks, charm & intelligence earn him many inmate & guard friends; and a few evil enemies. James Whitmore is fantastic as Brooks, who has a crow named Jake. In the novella, a different inmate has a pet bird – a pigeon not a crow. Perhaps the change is Darabont’s homage to Frank Capra, whose trademark raven, Jimmy, appeared in at least a dozen of his films.

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Shawshank was, to me, the 2nd best film in ’94 – to Forrest Gump. It received 7 Oscar nominations & no wins at the 67th Academy Awards: Losing 4 to Gump – Best Picture, Actor (Hanks over Freeman), Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing; 12 time Oscar Nominee, Thomas Newman’s Score (his father Alfred was the composer for Grapes of Wrath) lost to Hans Zimmer for The Lion King; Cinematography went to Legends of the Fall; and there’s the painful Sound of the loss of that Oscar to Speed. And moving along as quickly as the bus will carry us…“Let’s talk, you & I. Let’s talk about Stephen King!”. I’m not a big fan, mainly because his next 1000 page novel is about a phone number he found on a matchbook some girl gave him at a bar. But his stories make great movies. There have been 43 features made from his books & short stories, many great: The original Carrie, Children of the Corn, Stand By Me, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, and The Green Mile; Kubrick’s brilliant The Shining, which, amazingly, King hates; and today’s Classic. So watch the trailer below to whet your appetite for Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, then add it to your Netflix DVD Queue. 4 Stars!

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