26 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 41 | February 26, 2010

Women Behind the Camera II

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured this week
Monday         —   Anne Fontaine
Tuesday         —   Betty Thomas
Wednesday    —   Agnès Varda
Thursday        —   Nancy Meyers

Featured last week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig
Tuesday         —   Nora Ephron
Wednesday    —   Claire Denis
Thursday        —   Anne Fletcher
Friday            —   Kathryn Bigelow

Jane Campion

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  Bright Star; nominated for 1 Oscar; selected to be shown “in competition” at Cannes.

It ought to come like leaves to a tree, or it better not come at all.
—John Keats (Ben Whishaw), on writing poetry, in Bright Star

jane_campionIn his brief life it came to John Keats as it came to few before him or since.  The poet who died young, at the age of 25, expressed doubts whether anything he’d written in his few short years would ever be remembered.  We know better than he knew then.  In time his odes and sonnets entered the canon, and two centuries later his work is taught to schoolchildren, studied by scholars, and recited by lovers of literature.  Keats, today, is one of the immortals of English letters.

Bright Star focuses on Keats’s last years, and especially his love affair with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), the teenage girl next door, whom director Jane Campion sees as a more heroic figure than many of Keats’s biographers do.  Their romance is a story filled with passion, humor, and pain.  The film’s title comes from the first line of a Keats sonnet—“Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art”—about the poet’s desire to be forever with his love.  Jane Campion’s treatment, perhaps in a way, helps fulfill that wish.

Bright Star is just the second feature for Campion this past decade.  Previously she made In the Cut (2003), a thriller with Meg Ryan as a New York City teacher involved with—and suspicious of—a detective investigating a series of murders.  Earlier Campion had adapted Henry James’s novel The Portrait of a Lady (1995), starring Nicole Kidman as Isabel Archer.  Her 1993 film, The Piano, was highly acclaimed.  It starred Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin as mother and daugher in 19th-century New Zealand.  Both won Academy Awards, while Campion herself earned two Oscar nominations, including one for directing (she was only the second woman to be nominated), and a win for original screenplay.  Other honors for the film include a César Award and Palme d’Or (Campion was the first woman to win the Palme d’Or for a feature; she had won at Cannes previously for Peel, a short, in 1986).  The Piano was one of three Independent Spirit Awards won by Campion.  She won the first for her debut feature, Sweetie, in 1989.  Campion was born in New Zealand and lives today in Australia.

Beyond the final credits
Jane Campion says she became acquainted with John Keats while working on an earlier film:  “Meg Ryan’s character in In the Cut is a creative writing teacher.  But that stumped me:  I thought, ‘I just don’t know anything about this.’  On the way to work, she reads the poems pasted up above the seats on the New York subway and I realized I didn’t understand poetry either.  So just to create a diversion and a delay, I picked up a biography of Keats.  That’s where I found the answer; he said he wanted a life of sensations, not thoughts, and I understood that I was trying to photograph sensations.  That came back to me when I was writing Bright Star.”


Bright Star (2009)
Jane Campion, director


Interview with Jane Campion and Ben Whishaw


Final Friday Five, the monthly mini-quiz
1.  Shutter Island is Leonardo DiCaprio’s ___ film directed by Martin Scorsese.
      a.  first
      b.  second
      c.  third
      d.  fourth
      e.  fifth
2.  For the acting duo below, list the movies in which they co-starred in chronological order by release date.
      Jack Lemmon / Walter Matthau
          Out to Sea
          Buddy Buddy
          The Front Page
          The Grass Harp
          The Odd Couple
          Grumpy Old Men
          The Fortune Cookie

3.  The three characters below were portrayed by three of the actors listed to the right.  Name the one actor who did not play the character on film.
      Hannibal Lecter:  Gaspard Ulliel, Anthony Hopkins, James Woods, Brian Cox
      Richard Nixon:  Peter Boyle, Philip Baker Hall, Anthony Hopkins, Frank Langella
      William Bligh:  Trevor Howard, John Mills, Anthony Hopkins, Charles Laughton
4.  For the four films below, select the following four:  release date, director, actor, actress.
      a.  The Big Sleep
      b.  The Long Goodbye
      c.  Farewell, My Lovely
      d.  Murder, My Sweet
      Release dates:  1944, 1975, 1946, 1973
      Directors:  Howard Hawks, Robert Altman, Dick Richards, Edward Dmytryk
      Actors:  Dick Powell, Elliott Gould, Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart
      Actresses:  Claire Trevor, Nina Van Pallandt, Lauren Bacall, Charlotte Rampling
5.  Rearrange the mixed-up titles below to form the names of five films nominated this year for Best Picture.
      a.  Sour Epic
      b.  Hurl the Rocket
      c.  A Nude Action
      d.  A Hip Uniter
      e.  One Samurai

Answers here.

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Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 25 Feb 2010 @ 11:40 PM

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 25 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 40 | February 25, 2010

Women Behind the Camera II

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured this week
Monday         —   Anne Fontaine
Tuesday         —   Betty Thomas
Wednesday    —   Agnès Varda

Featured last week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig
Tuesday         —   Nora Ephron
Wednesday    —   Claire Denis
Thursday        —   Anne Fletcher
Friday            —   Kathryn Bigelow

Nancy Meyers

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  It’s Complicated; nominated for 3 Golden Globe, including Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Best Screenplay (Nancy Meyers); worldwide box office (to date), $186+ million.

nancy_meyersThe cast of It’s Complicated—winners of the National Board of Review’s award for best ensemble—may have a reunion Oscar night.  Meryl Streep is nominated for Best Actress (for Julie & Julia), and Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin will share hosting duties.  Knowing the cast alone tells you a few things about the film:  it’s a movie aimed at adults, there’ll be a few laughs, and expect some mischief.  The “It” in the title is a love triangle—the bakery owner played by Streep has an affair with her ex played by Baldwin and is pursued by an architect played by Martin.  It’s not only complicated, it’s an age-old, tried-and-true formula for romantic comedy.  You don’t watch so much to find out what happens but to enjoy the performers put on a show.  The aim is to entertain.  Maybe that’s not so complicated after all.

It’s Complicated is the fifth film directed by Nancy Meyers.  As she usually does, she wrote the script and produced too.  Her first directing job was The Parent Trap (1998), the Disney remake that was young Lindsay Lohan’s debut.  She followed that with one big hit, the Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt comedy What Women Want (2000), then another one, Something’s Gotta Give (2003), with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton.  The Holiday (2006) aimed younger, with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet swapping homes in L.A. and London while finding romance with Jack Black and Jude Law.  Meyers’s romantic comedies have all done especially well at the box office, with What Women Want setting a record at the time as the top grosser of any film directed by a woman.

Prior to directing, Meyers was a successful writer and producer, often collaborating with her onetime husband, writer-producer Charles Shyer.  She co-wrote Father of the Bride (1991) and its sequel (1995), both starring Martin.  Her first credit, and big break, was Private Benjamin, with Goldie Hawn, in 1980.  It was a statement to Hollywood:  a film starring a single female lead can do well—in fact, very well—at the box office.  Meyers shared an Oscar nomination for the original screenplay.

Beyond the final credits
Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will be teaming up for the Oscars for the first time, but they have plenty of experience as hosts.  Each hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live in 2009.  For Baldwin, it was his 14th time hosting the show.  That’s more than any other SNL host, save one.  Martin has 15 hosting appearances (and 26 guest appearances altogether).


It’s Complicated (2009)
Nancy Meyers, director


Interview with Nancy Meyers


Poinf of View
“Virtue has its own reward, but has no sale at the box office.”
—Mae West

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 21 Feb 2010 @ 04:33 PM

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 24 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 39 | February 24, 2010

Women Behind the Camera II

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured this week
Monday         —   Anne Fontaine
Tuesday         —   Betty Thomas

Featured last week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig
Tuesday         —   Nora Ephron
Wednesday    —   Claire Denis
Thursday        —   Anne Fletcher
Friday            —   Kathryn Bigelow

Agnès Varda

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  The Beaches of Agnès; won César Award, Best Documentary; nominated for DGA Award.

agnes_vardaAgnès Varda is a Belgian-born French director still making films in her 80s.  She started in the mid-1950s and has been associated with the French New Wave and Rive Gauche movements.  She’s won multiple honors for her work, including an Honorary César, the Golden Lion at Venice, and rank of Commandeur of the French Legion of Honor.  Recurrent themes in her work are feminism and political activism.  Her most noted work includes the films Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), about a singer who wanders Paris as she awaits the results of a biopsy; Vagabond (1985), another film about a wanderer, a young woman traveling through French wine country one winter; and The Gleaners and I (2000), a documentary about gleaners, people who collect leftover crops from farm fields.

The Beaches of Agnès is a film memoir of a sort.  Varda says that when she looks within a person, she sees landscapes, and in this film looking at her life, the landscape is the beach—a beach like none other, filled with mirrors, circus acts, and a re-created production office.  Varda draws on films, photographs, and recollections to create a unique remembrance, and vision, of the people, places, and ideas of her life.

Beyond the final credits
Agnès Varda was married for three decades to another leading French filmmaker, Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1964), until his death in 1990, of AIDS.  Varda’s documentary Jacquot de Nantes (1991) is an account of Demy’s childhood and his lifelong love of theater and cinema.


The Beaches of Agnès (2009)
Agnès Varda, director
Trailer


Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)
Agnès Varda, director
Varda’s homage to the silents, “Les Fiancés Du Pont Macdonald”
Featuring Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina, and Jean-Claude Brialy

Damned sunglasses!


Quote of Note
“Time is the best author.  It always writes the perfect ending.”
—Calvero (Charlie Chaplin), Limelight (1952)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 24 Feb 2010 @ 08:23 AM

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 23 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 38 | February 23, 2010

Women Behind the Camera II

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured this week
Monday         —   Anne Fontaine

Featured last week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig
Tuesday         —   Nora Ephron
Wednesday    —   Claire Denis
Thursday        —   Anne Fletcher
Friday            —   Kathryn Bigelow

Betty Thomas

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  Alvin and the Chipmunks:  The Squeakquel; worldwide box office (to date), $425 million

betty_thomasI have vague recollections of hearing the rodent trio of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, along with their father-figure, David Seville, back in the 1960s.  I may have watched the TV show, but it’s the Christmas song (still heard every December) that stuck in my head.  That funny, squeaky sound the Chipmunks made with their voices was music to a small boy’s ears.  (The original gimmick came from speeding up the playback on a tape recorder.)  I don’t recall my mother’s reaction, but I’d bet there were moments when she wanted to scream, “Turn that damned thing off!”  (She was too nice to scream, though I like to think there were times when she wanted to.)  A few decades later, the appeal of Alvin and the gang probably hasn’t changed much.  A movie that’s made more than $200 million at the U.S. box office and more than $400 million worldwide is, safe to say, a hit with a new generation of kids.  The reaction of the critics, on the other hand, is much what I imagined my mother’s to be.  The Metacritic score is 41 (out of 100), well below the other films covered this week.  Kids, bless them, don’t read critics.

Betty Thomas, for her own sake, shouldn’t either.  Not for this film.  Thomas’s film directing career is filled with family-friendly fare, middle-of-the-road entertainments well-suited for the megaplex, not the art house.  She had worked in television previously—best known for a dramatic role (Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues) though she had started in comedy with the Second City troupe in Chicago.  She has been nominated for ten Emmys, winning twice (once for acting, once for directing).  Thomas’s film work includes The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), which had a retro appeal for a certain audience, and Private Parts (1997), with Howard Stern starring as Howard Stern.  Both were modest hits making a decent profit.  She had a bigger budget and scored a bigger hit with the Eddie Murphy vehicle Doctor Dolittle in 1998.  I Spy (2002) again starred Murphy but was a dud.  The Alvin sequel won’t win any awards but it’s made a lot of money, setting the U.S. box office record for a film directed by a woman (second worldwide to Mamma Mia!, directed by Phyllida Lloyd).  That’s not everything, but in Hollywood it’s indeed something.

Beyond the final credits
If you had tried the FilmFest 101 puzzle in the MAD Launch Contest last month, you may remember a part about Alfred Hitchcock cameos.  Perhaps you had taken a look at this video.  In Rear Window, the famed director appears winding a clock behind the back of a songwriter playing a piano (2:14 on the video at the link).  So?  That piano player was Ross Bagdasarian—better known by his stage name, David Seville—who went on to create Alvin and the Chipmunks.


Alvin and the Chipmunks:  The Squeakquel (2009)
Betty Thomas, director


Interview with Betty Thomas, on I Spy and her start in Hollywood


Famous Firsts
The first American movies featuring nudes scenes were the silent films Inspiration (1915), starring model and actress Audrey Munson, and A Daughter of the Gods (1916), with film and swimming star Annette Kellerman (she was the first woman swimmer to attempt crossing the English Channel and has been credited as the inventor of synchronized swimming).  The latter film was a Fox production and the first by a U.S. filmmaker to cost one million dollars.  No copy of either film is known to exist today.

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 23 Feb 2010 @ 08:02 AM

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 22 Feb 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 37 | February 22, 2010

Women Behind the Camera II

Our theme this week continues where we left off last week.  Please see the Monday post for introductory comments.

Our theme this week
Women directors of notable films from 2009

Featured last week
Monday         —   Lone Scherfig
Tuesday         —   Nora Ephron
Wednesday    —   Claire Denis
Thursday        —   Anne Fletcher
Friday            —   Kathryn Bigelow

Anne Fontaine

The essentials
Notable 2009 film:  Coco Before Chanel; nominated for 1 Oscar.

anne_fontaineAt first a dancer and actress, Anne Fontaine turned to writing and directing in the 1980s.  She has worked in French theater, television, and film.  For her 1993 film Love Affairs Usually End Badly, she was awarded the Prix Jean Vigo, an annual honor given to directors for their spirit and style.  Augustin (1995) was a selection for “Un Certain Regard” at Cannes.  She was honored for the best screenplay at Venice for Dry Cleaning (1997).  Several of her films have earned César nominations and awards.

Coco Before Chanel is Fontaine’s biggest success outside the French-speaking world.  Starring Audrey Tautou, the film follows the early life of a woman of humble beginnings, raised in an orphanage, who through a combination of ambition and charm—and talent for making hats—rises into high society, on her way to being one of the great names of 20th-century fashion.  Biopics sometimes move too swiftly as they try to squeeze into two hours the events of many decades.  Not this one.  Fontaine’s focus is a few years in the life of a complicated and fascinating character, and within that scope you get a sense of the woman that Chanel was, and was to become.

Beyond the final credits
Coco Chanel had affairs with a number of men, many of them important figures of the day.  But she never married.  Asked about that by the Duke of Westminster, she responded:   “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster.  There is only one Chanel.”


Coco Before Chanel (2009)
Anne Fontaine, director


Interview with Anne Fontaine


Quote of Note
“I’ve met another man.  He’s the best man I’ve ever met.  He’s bright, handsome, and he’s crazy about me.  And, he’s married.  There’s only one thing—he doesn’t like my hat.”
—Sabina (Lena Olin), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

…58…59…60.

Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 21 Feb 2010 @ 05:01 PM

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