30 Sep 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 170 | September 30, 2010

Late for the Show

Our theme this week

Actors with posthumous nominations for Oscars

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   James Dean (1931-1955):  East of Eden, Giant
Tuesday         —   Spencer Tracy (1900-1967):  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Wednesday    —   Peter Finch (1916-1977):  Network

Massimo Troisi (1953-1994):  Il Postino (The Postman)

massimo troisi_2the postman il postino

Massimo Troisi began as a comic actor, working in cabarets, radio, and television, then started making films in the 1980s, as a director and actor.  He worked with big names of Italian cinema such as Ettore Scola, Marcello Mastroianni, and Roberto Benigni, yet at least in the U.S., few people would have heard of him had he not starred in Michael Radford’s 1994 film, Il Postino (The Postman).

Troisi plays Mario Ruoppolo, the poor son of a fisherman on a small island off the coast of Italy.  He takes a job as a postman for a single customer, famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (the always wonderful Philippe Noiret), who moved to the island with his wife to escape political trouble at home.  Each day Mario pedals his bicycle up a steep dirt road to deliver the mail.  At first the poet has little interest in the simple, humble postman, but Mario shows great interest in Neruda and his poetry, and eventually the two strike up a friendship.  Mario, who has fallen for the village beauty, Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), would like to have Neruda help him win her affections.  They talk about poetry and metaphors and love, and without any pretension, some of the more profound things in life.  Mario learns from the poet, and more surprisingly, the poet learns from Mario as well.

Il Postino, like Mario himself, appears simple yet is deeply affecting.  The film is filled with timeless lessons and characters not to be forgotten.  Miramax, in its heyday, promoted the movie and won it a wide audience.  At the time, it became the top-grossing foreign-language film in U.S. cinema history.

The heartbreaking tale was made even more poignant by the story of Massimo Troisi himself.  In poor health during filming of the movie, he postposed heart surgery until after the production was completed.  The day after filming wrapped, he suffered a fatal heart attack. 

The film went on to earn five Oscar nominations, with two for Troisi:  for acting in a lead role, and a shared honor for adapted screenplay.

Il Postino (The Postman) (1994)
Michael Radford, director
Diablo Cody (screenplay), writer
Antonio Skármeta (novel); Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli (story); Anna Pavignano, Michael Radford, Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli, Massimo Troisi (screenplay); writers
Franco Di Giacomo, cinematographer

Il Postino (The Postman) (1994)


Quote of note
:  I can’t explain it—I felt like—like a boat tossing around on those words.
Pablo:  Like a boat tossing around on my words?
Mario:  Ay.
Pablo:  Do you know what you’ve done, Mario?
Mario:  No, what?
Pablo:  You’ve created a metaphor.
Mario:  No.
Pablo:  Yes.
Mario:  No.
Pablo:  Yes, you have!
Mario:  Really?
Pablo:  Yes.
Mario:  But it doesn’t count  because I didn’t mean to.
Pablo:  Meaning to is not important.  Images arise spontaneously.
Mario:  You mean then that—for example, I don’t know if you follow me—that the whole world—that the whole world, with the sea, the sky, with the rain, the clouds—
Pablo:  Now you can say, “etc., etc.”
Mario:  “Etc., etc.”  The whole world is the metaphor for something else?  [Pause]  I’m talking crap.
Pablo:  No, not at all.  Not at all.
Mario:  You pulled a strange face.
Pablo:  Mario, let’s make a pact.  I’ll have a nice swim and ponder your question.  Then I’ll give you an answer tomorrow.
—Mario Ruoppolo (Massimo Troisi), Il Postino (The Postman) (1994) 


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 28 Sep 2010 @ 08:36 PM

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 29 Sep 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Wednesday Minute
No. 169 | September 29, 2010

Late for the Show

Our theme this week

Actors with posthumous nominations for Oscars

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   James Dean (1931-1955):  East of Eden, Giant
Tuesday         —   Spencer Tracy (1900-1967):  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Peter Finch (1916-1977):  Network

peter finch_2network

A British-born Australian, Peter Finch began acting on stage and in film during the 1930s.  Recruited by Laurence Olivier, Finch traveled to England in the ’40s, where he earned critical acclaim for his performances.  He won multiple BAFTA nominations and awards from the ’50s on.  Finch was known as a hell-raiser off screen, but he’ll always be remembered for the hell he raised onscreen as the madman anchorman Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network.

In contrast to Tuesday’s featured film, Network may be more relevant now than when it was made.  The television landscape was far different in 1976—a few networks, no cable as we know it, loads of mindless entertainment but news operations that had a less-warped definition of “fair and balanced.”  Yet along came Paddy Chayefsky who found plenty to parody.  He wrote an over-the-top send-up of the industry, lampooning TV’s obsession with ratings above all else, fueled by his outrage at the state of the world.  It was a biting satire.  The joke was on us, of course, because today we realize the movie wasn’t a satire after all—but a documentary ahead of its time.

Howard Beale is a longtime news anchor who’s dismayed that he’ll be replaced because of poor ratings.  He declares, on the air, that he’ll kill himself on television during the next week.  After he agrees to apologize for his outburst, his bosses allow him on for another show.  It sets up a classic scene, beautifully written, beautifully directed, and beautifully performed.  Beale goes on without a script.  “Everybody knows things are bad….  I’m not going to leave you alone.  I want you to get mad!”  He tells viewers to open their windows and shout along with him.  “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”  It’s a moment of madness, but one of the great rallying cries in the history of movies.  Beale’s tirade is a sensation, and the network has a hit.

One sad irony, in recent years Beale’s brilliant and scathing rant has been appropriated by messianic messengers who stand counter to the kind of change that Beale was talking about.  Today the object of vitriol is grossly misplaced.  Television, along with the rest of the corporatized media—the great molders of public opinion—have scammed us with a bait-and-switch, willing to get us mad as hell but pointing our attention at the wrong targets, and never at themselves.  Chayefsky is no longer with us, but we could use another like him.

Network was nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director (Sidney Lumet).  Five of the nominations were for acting, and the film is one of only two (the other, A Streetcar Named Desire) to win three acting awards, including a posthumous Best Actor prize for Peter Finch, who had died while on tour to promote the film.

Network (1976)
Sidney Lumet, director
Paddy Chayefsky, writer
Owen Roizman, cinematographer
“Mad as Hell”

Network (1976)
“The Howard Beale Show”
Peter Finch

Quote of note
Max:  Howard, I’m taking you off the air.  I think you’re having a breakdown, require treatment.
Howard:  This is not a psychotic episode.  This is a cleansing moment of clarity.  I’m imbued, Max.  I’m imbued with some special spirit.  It’s not a religious feeling at all.  It’s a shocking eruption of great electrical energy.  I feel vivid and flashing, as if suddenly I’d been plugged into some great electromagnetic field.  I feel connected to all living things.  To flowers, birds, all the animals of the world.  And even to some great, unseen, living force.  What I think the Hindus call prana.  But it’s not a breakdown.  I’ve never felt more orderly in my life.  It is a shattering and beautiful sensation.  It is the exalted flow of the space-time continuum, save that it is spaceless and timeless and…of such loveliness.  I feel on the verge of some great, ultimate truth.  And you will not take me off the air for now or for any other spaceless time!
—Max Schumacher (William Holden), Howard Beale (Peter Finch), Network (1976)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 30 Sep 2010 @ 08:33 PM

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 28 Sep 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 168 | September 28, 2010

Late for the Show

Our theme this week

Actors with posthumous nominations for Oscars

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   James Dean (1931-1955):  East of Eden, Giant

Spencer Tracy (1900-1967):  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

spencer tracyguess who's coming to dinner

Monday’s and Tuesday’s actors were in some ways opposites.  James Dean was a method actor.  Spencer Tracy’s key to acting, so he said, was to “show up on time, know your lines, and don’t bump into the furniture.”  Dean died before his career had barely started.  Spencer Tracy died after a career stretching four decades, with nine Oscar nominations in all (each for a leading role), including two wins (Captains Courageous and Boys Town).

Tracy’s final film was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, his ninth pairing with Katharine Hepburn.  The two play a well-to-do father and mother whose daughter (Katharine Houghton) returns home with a surprise—a fiancé.  He’s a doctor, educated at Yale, and that would all be just swell, except for the “pigmentation problem.”  “It never occurred to me that I would fall in love with a Negro,” the daughter says, “but I have, and nothing’s going to change that.”  It’s not what the good folks had been hoping for, and even though the “Negro,” in the person of Sidney Poitier, is as perfect a specimen as director Stanley Kramer and writer William Rose could conjure, the parents, and the father especially, are not so ready to give their blessing.  (The deck is stacked, though, and we have no doubt where the story is going.)

Kramer was known for tackling the issues of the day, often to deliver a timeless but heavy-handed message.  (“Mr. Kramer, Mr. Goldwyn is waiting on line 1.”)  Few things were as topical in the mid-sixties as the issue of race, yet whatever relevance the film may have had then, it seems rather tame today (and at times, unintentionally funny).  It’s not that we’ve overcome all prejudice, but how we think and talk about race is filtered through a much different prism.  The bigger problem with the film, though, is that Kramer has stripped down his characters to fit his purposes.  They may work for the morality tale he’s constructed it, but they’re easier to recognize as types than as real flesh-and-blood people.

The story, beneath the cloak of social currency, is a rather conventional tale of true love triumphing over whatever obstacles may be in the way.  The film’s pleasures are the performances, especially Tracy and Hepburn, who had a long and complex relationship on and off screen.  The affection they had for one another is palpable, and knowing this was near the end for Tracy, as they surely knew, it’s impossible to watch and not be moved.

Spencer Tracy died of a heart attack seventeen days after filming completed.  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was released six months later.  The movie earned ten Academy Award nominations, with four for acting, including one for Hepburn (who won) and one for Tracy.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Stanley Kramer, director
William Rose,  writer
Sam Leavitt, director of photography

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Spencer Tracy sums it all up

Quote of note
“The only thing that matters is what they feel, and how much they feel, for each other.  And if it’s half of what we felt, that’s everything.  As for you two, and the problems you’re going to have, they seem almost unimaginable, but you’ll have no problem with me, and I think when Christina and I and your mother have some time to work on him you’ll have no problem with your father, John.  But you do know, I’m sure you know, what you’re up against.  There’ll be a hundred million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled at the two of you.  And the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives.  You can try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatreds and stupid fears, but where necessary, you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say “screw all those people!”  Anybody could make a case, a hell of a good case, against your getting married.  The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them.  But you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem.  And I think that now, no matter what kind of a case some bastard could make against your getting married, there would be only one thing worse, and that would be if—knowing what you two are, knowing what you two have, and knowing what you two feel—you didn’t get married.”
—Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)


 27 Sep 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 167 | September 27, 2010

Late for the Show

It’s an honor just to be nominated, as the saying goes, and some actors wait all their lives for that honor to come.  It’s no doubt a sweet moment to hear the news that the Motion Picture Academy has chosen your work to be among the year’s very best.

For many, including some of the best, the call never comes.  For a rare few, it comes too late.  A handful of times the Academy has nominated actors for Oscars, or presented them awards, after their death.  We’ll look at five of them this week.

Our theme this week
Actors with posthumous nominations for Oscars

James Dean (1931-1955):  East of Eden, Giant

james dean_3east of edengiant

James Dean was a guy who changed everything.  Not single-handedly, of course, but he was part of a small group that did.

In the history of film acting, there have been a few key developments:  the introduction of a naturalistic style, under D.W. Griffith et al. in the early days of silents, the transition to sound in the late 1920s, and method acting, which first became popular in the decade after the war.  Method actors of the ’50s are the dividing line between everything that was before and everything that has been since.

Dean was younger than others in that influential first generation of method actors (Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe), but in his short career he was one of its biggest stars.  His iconic status as a film actor rests on just three performances.  For director Elia Kazan, he played Cal Trask, the troubled twin brother in the adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.  Dean famously diverged from the script, improvising some scenes, and won great acclaim for the role.  Also in 1955, he starred as Jim Stark, (once again) a troubled teenager, in Rebel Without a Cause.  There was nothing like it before.  “You’re tearing me apart!” was a primal scream for a new generation.  It was a defining role and a defining film, and the age of teenage rebellion was born.  His next and last film was Giant, costarring with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.  Dean played Jett Rink, the guy who strikes oil, makes it big, and eventually pays the price for it.  (More on Giant here.)

Dean is best known for his films, but his list of acting credits is considerably longer than those three roles.  Dean performed in dozens of productions for television (for Studio One, Omnibus, Kraft Television Theater, et al.), and he did some notable stage work on and off Broadway.

On September 30, 1955, Dean died in a car accident in central California.  It was a few months after the release of East of Eden, for which he was later nominated for Best Actor, and a few weeks before Rebel Without a Cause. For 1956, he was again nominated for Best Actor, for Giant.

East of Eden (1955)
Elia Kazan, director
John Steinbeck (novel), Paul Osborn (screenplay); writers
Ted McCord, director of photography
James Dean


Giant (1956)
George Stevens, director
Edna Ferber (novel), Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffatt (screenplay),writers
William C. Mellor, cinematography
James Dean

Quote of note
“Man has a choice and it’s a choice that makes him a man.”
—Cal Trask (James Dean), East of Eden (1955)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 27 Sep 2010 @ 07:58 AM

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 24 Sep 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 166 | September 24, 2010

On a First-Name Basis

Our theme this week

Film titles that are first names of women

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Laura (1944)
Tuesday         —   Gilda (1946)
Wednesday    —   Lolita (1962)
Thursday        —   Frances (1982)

Juno (2007)


Juno was a surprise hit a few years ago, a low-budget comedy that did blockbuster business.  No comic book characters, no sci-fi storyline, no CGI wizardry—just a teenage girl with a big belly—yet people flocked to theaters to see the film that everyone was talking about.  Critics did a lot of that talking, giving the film many mentions on end-of-year top ten lists, and helping the film earn four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.  Juno won one Oscar, for newcomer Diablo Cody’s original screenplay.  The story of the film’s success became part of its appeal.  It was the little film that could.

Juno is an enjoyable comedy, delivering not only laughs but some tender, sweet moments as well.  The chararcters are very likable, and none more than Juno herself, the sharp-tongued, cynical teen played by Ellen Page, who gave a smart, funny, and truly wonderful performance.  J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, as Juno’s father and stepmother, are also terrific.

Juno’s dilemma:  she’s sixteen, pregnant, and needs to decide what to do about it.  An abortion?  That seems to be the solution, but then she reconsiders.  The film then follows her growing waistline as she searches for adoptive parents.  A well-off, suburban couple, Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), are an appealing option, but Mark goes nuts, leaving his wife and leaving Juno without a home for the soon-to-arrive bundle of joy.  Meanwhile, Juno’s friendship with Paulie (Michael Cera), her classmate and the father-to-be, develops into a loving relationship, which they come to realize just as the baby and a happy ending are due.

As appealing as the movie is, it’s probably gotten more praise than it rightfully earned.  The film does take a fresh approach to what could have been an obvious, by-the-numbers story, but its attitude-above-all slant gets tiring after a while.  Like its central character, the film’s worldview is limited, seeing only through young eyes.  Juno, and the film, find easy targets to mock in the adult world, but ironic detachment works better in smaller doses.  At least for me, the snarkiest-girl-in-the-room pose feels overdone.  Films, inevitably, are products of their time, so perhaps these shortcomings should be no surprise.

Another sign of the times, the film has been promoted by people with a political agenda as a statement supporting the conservative position on abortion.  It’s not.  My simple rule:  don’t trust people pushing politics when it comes to movies.

Juno (2007)
Jason Reitman, director
Diablo Cody (screenplay), writer
Eric Steelberg, cinematographer


Juno (2007)
Diablo Cody and Ellen Page on their favorite lines

Quote of note
:  And this, of course, is Juno.
Mark:  Like the city in Alaska?
Juno:  No.
Mark:  No?  Shall we sit down and get to know one another?
Vanessa:  Oh, I thought I would get some drinks.  What would anyone like?  I have Pellegrino, or vitamin water, or orange juice, or—
Juno:  I’ll have a Maker’s Mark.  Up.
Mac:  She’s kidding.  Junebug has a wonderful sense of humor.  Just one of her many genetic gifts.
—Mac MacGuff (J.K. Simmons), Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner), Juno (2007)

Final Friday Five, the monthly mini-quiz

1.  Walter Matthau starred in two movies that were directed by actors who directed one film only.  Who are the one-time actor-directors?  (For extra credit, what are the films?)

2.  Here are five movie titles that (appear to) use married women’s surnames.

Mrs. Brown
Mrs. Doubtfire
Mrs. Miniver
Mrs. Parkington

Mrs. Soffel

Here are your questions:

a.  Who’s the actress who played the title role in two of the films?
b.  In which film did a man play the title role?
c.  Which title does not refer to the name of a character but to the queen of England?
d.  Which film was directed by a woman?

3.  Our list of notable films of 1957 included three directed by Billy Wilder.  For each set of stars, name the film.

a.  Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester
b.  Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier
c.  Jimmy Stewart, Murray Hamilton, Patricia Smith

4.  TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, wrapped this week.  The festival doesn’t have a jury that selects award winners, but it does have a People’s Choice Award.  This year’s honoree is a British production directed by Tom Hooper, starring Colin Firth as a stammering George VI who is preparing for war.  What’s the name of the film?

5.  Name that Zucker!  Match the correct Zucker(___) with the descriptions below.

Barry Zuckerkorn
Buck Zuckerman
David Zucker
George Zuckerman
Jeff Zucker
Mark Zuckerberg
Mort Zuckerman
Nathan Zuckerman

a.  Billionaire publisher of the New York Daily News and editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report
b.  1940s-50s Hollywood screenwriter best known for his collaborations with director Douglas Sirk (Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels)
c.  Birth name of the actor-writer known as Buck Henry
d.  Philip Roth character played by Gary Sinise in the 2003 film The Human Stain
e.  Elder brother in a trio of collaborators best known for Airplane! and The Naked Gun
f.  President and CEO of NBC Universal
g.  Henry Winkler’s character on Arrested Development
h.  Co-founder of Facebook and subject of The Social Network, the new David Fincher movie opening October 1

Answers here.


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 24 Sep 2010 @ 08:30 AM

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