Eleanor Ringel Cater – LikeTheDew.com https://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 17 Feb 2019 15:51:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 https://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Eleanor Ringel Cater – LikeTheDew.com https://likethedew.com 32 32 High on critics’ list: It’s ‘Up in the Air’ https://likethedew.com/2009/12/16/high-on-critics-list-its-up-in-the-air/ https://likethedew.com/2009/12/16/high-on-critics-list-its-up-in-the-air/#comments Wed, 16 Dec 2009 19:07:33 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=7118

up_in_the_air_movie_poster_US_george_clooney_jason_reitman_01_jpgFirst, it was just NYC. Then people got huffy ’cause the New York Film Critics Circle didn’t make allowances for national reviewers. Say, the folks at The New Yorker or Time. Thus, The National Society of Film Critics which, to tell the truth, is still mostly New York and L.A., with a sprinkling of Boston and Chicago (and me … the sole yahoo from the South).

Then so many writers relocated to the West Coast that there was a need for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. As for The National Board of Review, well, apparently they have about a gazillion members and no one is quite sure who they are, but they always get a lot of press because they are the first to announce their winners every December — often, I have to say — without seeing all the movies that are opening in December.

Now, there are film groups made up of ONLY writers from Boston or Chicago. There’s something for broadcast critics. A group in San Francisco and another in Seattle (or maybe it’s Portland). Texas has a few. And in the Southeast, we have the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) which started off a bit shaky, but has hung in for 18 years and has more than proved its credentials. It’s made up of film critics from all over the South, from Miami to Atlanta to Charlotte to Knoxville. Currently, it claims 44 members.

This year, the association named “Up in the Air” the Best Picture of 2009 in which George Clooney flies around the country firing people (the timing is uncanny). And I agree with them. It probably is the best picture of the year. Certainly it’s my favorite.

In its fifth year, the Wyatt Award went to writer-director Scott Teems’ “That Evening Sun,” an excellent South-drenched  drama starring Hal Holbrook as an elderly Tennessee farmer trying to reclaim his home. Named after the late SEFCA member Gene Wyatt, the prize seeks to honor one film each year that best embodies the essence of the South.

In addition to naming its Best Picture, SEFCA also releases its Top 10 for the year. The complete list follows.

Best Picture

1. Up in the Air

2. The Hurt Locker

3. Up

4. Inglourious Basterds

5. A Serious Man

6. 500 Days of Summer

7. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

8. The Messenger

9. The Fantastic Mr. Fox

10. District 9

Best Actor

George Clooney – Up in the Air

Runner-up: Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker

draft_lens2359443module13279566photo_1230926256JulieandJulia_MerylStreepBest Actress

Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia

Runner-up: Gabourey Sidibe – Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Best Supporting Actor

Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

Runner-up: Woody Harrelson – The Messenger

Best Supporting Actress

Mo’Nique – Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Runner-up: Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker

Runner-up: Jason Reitman – Up in the Air

Best Original Screenplay

Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – 500 Days of Summer

Runner-up: Mark Boal – The Hurt Locker

Best Adapted Screenplay

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner – Up in the Air

Runner-up: Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach – Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best Foreign Language Film

Summer Hours (France)

Runner-up: The White Ribbon (Germany)

Best Documentary

Food, Inc.

Runner-up: The Cove

Best Animated Feature

Up

Runner-up: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wyatt Award

That Evening Sun

Runner-up: Goodbye Solo

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Jerichow: No Postman and No Doorbell https://likethedew.com/2009/08/08/jerichow-no-postman-and-no-doorbell/ https://likethedew.com/2009/08/08/jerichow-no-postman-and-no-doorbell/#comments Sat, 08 Aug 2009 20:54:28 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=5067

Jerichow_plak_09:Layout 1Now that just about everyone has seen JULIE & JULIA  (except moi; hey, if it worked for Kathleen … ), I thought I’d mention that, if you go to the Landmark Midtown in Atlanta and the Meryl Streep movie is sold out, give JERICHOW a try. It’s an odd — and oddly affecting — spin on James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

Set in Germany, this version might better be called “The Postman Always Rings Once.” Except there is no postman and no doorbell. Dishonorably discharged drifter and semi-lout, Thomas (Benno Furmann) helps out an alcoholic Turkish immigrant, Ali (Hilmi Sozer) when the man is too drunk to complete his collection rounds at several roadside snack bars he owns.

Jerichow2So Ali hires Thomas as his driver and general helpmate. Thomas promptly helps himself to Ali’s lovely but aloof German wife, Laura (Nina Hoss) who’s not what you’d call unwilling. A triangle evolves, just as it did in the ’40s version, starring Lana Turner and John Garfield as the illicit lovers and the ‘80s version with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.

Director Christian Petzold has much more sympathy for his cuckold than Cain or Hollywood ever did. Thus, he leaves the ending much less resolved and our sympathies, well, much less resolved as well. Ali is shown to be selfish, weak, and rather shrewd. But he’s also allowed to be quite human. And it makes all the difference.

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‘Revanche’ looks at ‘chaotic nature of fate’ https://likethedew.com/2009/07/23/revanche-looks-at-chaotic-nature-of-fate/ https://likethedew.com/2009/07/23/revanche-looks-at-chaotic-nature-of-fate/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2009 19:43:12 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=4605

revanche_ver2A nominee for best foreign language film at last winter’s Academy Awards, the strangely eloquent Austrian film “Revanche” (translation: “Revenge”) is a tale of two couples whose paths cross in a tragically unexpected way.

Alex (Johannes Krisch), a security guard of sorts at a Viennese brothel, falls for one of the working girls, a Ukrainian prostitute named Tamara (Irina Potapenko). She falls back. The problem: The power-brokers who run the operation don’t like the, er, staff to date.

So Alex comes up with a scheme to free them both. He’ll rob a bank and they’ll ride off together into some sunset somewhere.

Robert  (Andreas Lust) is a small-town cop who happens to get in the way, almost by accident. Destiny comes full circle when Alex becomes involved with Robert’s unhappy wife, Susanne (Ursula Strauss).

Tidily directed by Gotz Spielmann, “Revanche” is a cynical contemplation of the sometimes chaotic nature of fate. Hardly the “feel-good” film of the summer, it nonetheless casts a potent spell of wary humanism that’s well worth checking out. (In German with subtitles)

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‘Il Divo,’ part Nixon, part Corleone https://likethedew.com/2009/07/16/il-divo-part-nixon-part-corleone/ https://likethedew.com/2009/07/16/il-divo-part-nixon-part-corleone/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2009 21:14:08 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=4527

toni-servillo-nel-ruolo-di-giulio-andreotti-in-una-scena-del-film-il-divo-60601You think Italian politics are nutty now.

Well, check out Il Divo at the Landmark Theater in Midtown Atlanta.

Giulio Andreotti could be a character out of a Fellini film, but he’s the real thing. This besmirched but irrepressible former Italian prime minister, who was still a power figure in his 90s despite accusations of corruption, murder and Mafia ties, felt no need to make confessions. Instead, he merely shrugged as his enemies stewed.

Paolo Sorrentino’s film (playing this week at the Landmark) takes the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-celebrate-’em approach to Andreotti’s long but checkered career.

Don’t worry about the details of Andreotti’s reign or trying to follow the politics involved. Simply know that “Il Divo” is a frisky, unapologetic portrait of the politician as a scoundrel. Part Richard Nixon, part Don Corleone, Andreotti (expertly played by Toni Servillo),  eventually comes off as a tragic figure.

Maybe …

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Home Movies: Storm the Barricades or … https://likethedew.com/2009/07/14/home-movies-storm-the-barricades-or/ https://likethedew.com/2009/07/14/home-movies-storm-the-barricades-or/#respond Tue, 14 Jul 2009 20:15:07 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=4441

51Z7YP14PXL._SS500_Bastille Day!!!

Time to storm the barricades.

Or rent these movies:

START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1969)

Donald Sutherland and Gene Wilder star as twins literally separated at birth. One pair goes on to become bloodthirsty aristocrats especially skilled at fencing. The other becomes hapless peasants caught up in the French Revolution. The humor is very late ‘60s-silly, but much of it is still riotous today – especially Hugh Griffith as a senile Louis XVI. And yes, that’s Orson Welles, the BIG man himself, as the pompous narrator.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1935)

Classic Golden Age Hollywood with David O. Selznick tackling Charles Dickens before moving on to Margaret Mitchell. Selznick was the producer, not the director, but as was his wont, he ran the show as much as he could. A clean-shaven Ronald Colman stars as the “’tis a far, far better thing” hero, but Blanche Yurka steals the movie as the guillotine-loving Madame Defarge.

THE BLACK BOOK (1949)

A surprisingly effective B-movie often known by its more provocative title, “Reign of Terror.” Robert Cummings (“Love That Bob!”) is our Everyman hero and Richard Basehart chews every inch of scenery he can as a florid Robespierre. The director is Anthony Mann who, in the ‘50s, became famous for his Western movies starring Jimmy Stewart. According to one trivia expert, the film was shot on sets left over from Ingrid Bergman’s A-list  “Joan of Arc.”

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The unsuitable suitor, Karl Malden https://likethedew.com/2009/07/03/the-unsuitable-suitor-karl-malden/ https://likethedew.com/2009/07/03/the-unsuitable-suitor-karl-malden/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2009 04:46:36 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=4078

77176-004-238EB025The death of Karl Malden may not amount to a hill of beans ….

Wait,. wrong classic movie.

THE classic movie, with which Malden would forever be associated with throughout his long career was “A Streetcar Named Desire,” for which he won an Academy Award (for best supporting actor) for recreating the role of Mitch, Blanche’s unsuitable gentleman suitor in the original Broadway production.

Otherwise mostly known for his distinctively bulbous nose and role as Michael Douglas’s partner in the TV series, “The Streets of San Francisco,” Malden had the sort of rich and varied character-actor career that seems almost impossible today. His many movie credits range from “On the Waterfront” (another Oscar nomination) and “Baby Doll” (in which he was inappropriately hitched to the title character) to “Patton” (as Gen. Omar Bradley) and “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” (don’t worry about it). The important thing is, he was stalwart and talented and managed to stay employed throughout a long and occasionally distinguished career, including a stint as the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar people) from 1989-1993.

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On the Wilder Side https://likethedew.com/2009/07/01/on-the-wilder-side/ https://likethedew.com/2009/07/01/on-the-wilder-side/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2009 18:21:27 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=4021

300_254671I recently had the great honor to interview Gene Wilder. He was in Atlanta to visit his wife, Karen Webb’s, grown-up children who had moved South to work for Turner.

Wilder is an original — quite possibly the most unique comic actor of his time. He was pummeled by Zero Mostel in “The Producers,” kidnapped by Warren Beatty in “Bonnie and Clyde,” rode West (in Rabbinical whiskers) with Harrison Ford in “The Frisco Kid,“ played Donald Sutherland’s mismatched twin in “Start the Revolution Without Me” (a great 4th of July choice even if it is about the French Revolution) and brought Peter Boyle to life in “Young Frankenstein.”

A gentle man with a quiet (and decidedly quirky) sense of humor, Wilder is also a born story-teller. One of his favorites is how he agreed to play the title role in  “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Wilder insisted he make his entrance hobbling on a cane. Then he seems to lose control of it, falls forward and executes a perfect somersault. “After that,” he explained to the aghast fillmakers, ”no one will ever know if I’m telling the truth or not.”

Now in his mid-70s, Wilder has turned his attention to writing and has produced an exquisite pair of novels, almost Chekhovian in their astutely humorous observation of human nature. One is “My French Whore,” set during World War I; the other is “The Woman Who Wouldn’t,” which takes place at a turn-of-the-century sanitarium where one of the other patients is … Anton Chekhov.

Both read like screenplays for a Gene Wilder movie. Which is to say, they are very good reads.

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Woody Allen made me sad https://likethedew.com/2009/06/21/woody-allen-made-me-sad/ https://likethedew.com/2009/06/21/woody-allen-made-me-sad/#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2009 22:30:57 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=3586

Whatever-Works-premiere-W-015While I was in a traffic jam yesterday, coming home to Atlanta from Maysville on I-85 (All Lanes Blocked …. dreaded words), I happened to catch an interview with Woody Allen on NPR.

He’s doing press to plug his new movie, “Whatever Works,” which opens in Atlanta in early July.

Movie sounds okay … more Allen-Angst, this time starring Larry David as the Woody surrogate and Evan Rachel Wood as the inevitable younger (much) woman … THIS TIME a Southern beauty queen with more dimples than brains.

Anyway, I have a soft spot for Allen since he’s created more enduring works than failures … though the masterpieces, like, say “Annie Hall” or “Hannah and Her Sisters,” are getting to be distant memories.

But listening to his interview, it struck me how time-warped he (and, sadly, his genius) is. The comments are what we could’ve heard 30 years ago, except for hems and hahs about his child bride/stepdaughter.

There are artists who’ve committed far more heinous crimes than that of a horny old man needing his youth re-affirmed by a younger woman (especially a supposedly forbidden younger woman). But for some reason, this transgression has stuck to Allen like … add your own metaphor.

It made me sad — though not as sad as being stuck in traffic with All Lanes Closed.

Perhaps it’s wrong to demand our artists stay creative and, well, personally acceptable for as long as they live. John Huston pulled stuff Allen probably never dreamed of and we just shook our collective heads.

Maybe it’s that you create your own bed (so to speak) and then we, your acolytes, force you to lie in it.

Oh, and Woody’s mom, played by the brilliant Patricia Clarkson, is named Marietta. Allen must’ve heard the name of our northern, um, southern  ‘burb long ago and put it in his drawer along with the rest of the screenplay.

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Happy Bloomsday: James Joyce in film https://likethedew.com/2009/06/16/happy-bloomsday-james-joyce-in-film/ https://likethedew.com/2009/06/16/happy-bloomsday-james-joyce-in-film/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2009 17:04:12 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=3474

portraitWell, it’s Bloomsday — the day when James Joyce-eans all over the world take a minute to recall Leopold Bloom’s 24-hour Odyssey around Dublin over a century ago.

As it happens, my husband and I were actually sitting at Davy Byrnes Pub on Bloomsday several years ago. Not a conscious choice, but guided there, we think, by the spirits of our friends the Grahams who would’ve loved to have been there in our place.

So I began thinking about Joyce, whose books were always too dense for me. They were, in general, too dense for film, too. A man named Joseph Strick made movies out of “Ulysses” in 1967 and “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” about a decade later. “Ulysses,” which starred Milo O’Shea as the wandering Leopold Bloom, fared better. It suited the times more and even earned an Oscar nomination for best-adapted screenplay.

What people mostly remember is Barbara Jefford’s long monologue as Molly Bloom. It was considered quite risqué, introducing the “f” word to the United Kingdon. (I think “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” may have already broken down barriers in the U.S. the year before.)

However, there is one magnificent adaptation of a Joyce work. For his last film, legendary director John Huston chose to make a movie out of one of the stories in “The Dubliners.” Called “ The Dead,” it’s as exquisite a film as you’ll ever see.

Set in 1904 Dublin, the movie centers on an annual holiday party given by a pair of elderly music teachers — and its aftermath, in which a character learns a melancholy truth about his wife’s past. Not only a fitting epitaph for a globe-trotting filmmaker who somehow always returned to the Auld Sod, “The Dead” is also a stunning convergence of two singularly dissimilar masters, with the 81-year-old Huston’s hard-earned wisdom mellowing the 25-year-old Joyce’s severity and judgment

Joyce loved these people more than he knew; but Huston knows and it enriches his film. By the end, there’s a kind of blessed peace achieved, as hushed and reverent as the snow falling outside the window.


Davy Byrnes Pub: http://www.davybyrnes.com/

James Joyce:

http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/

http://www.themodernword.com/joyce/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Joyce

Bloomsday: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloomsday

Bloomsday in Dublin:

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/entertainment/11-dublin-ignores-recession-to-celebrate-bloomsday–il–02

Bloomsday on Twitter (with a Georgia Tech angle):

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iDaIuVPFHBFzw-cxxlMhc75bOuVQD98RR34G0




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Home Movies: Clint grows up in ‘Gran Torino’ https://likethedew.com/2009/06/10/home-movies-clint-grows-up-in-gran-torino/ https://likethedew.com/2009/06/10/home-movies-clint-grows-up-in-gran-torino/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2009 01:26:25 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=3368

gran-torino-1-1024Gran Torino” might as well been called “Dirty Harry Grows Old…and Grows Up.”

Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this surprisingly satisfying plea for getting along. He plays a cantankerous old coot who can’t accept that the ol’ neighborhood ain’t what it used to be. In fact, nothing, it seems, is like it used to be — except for his cherished Gran Torino which he safeguards in his garage like a buried treasure.

However, he is forced to examine the nature of change and his own conscience when he is befriended by a Hmong family who’ve moved in next door. It’s a good trade-off: He protects them from the bullying gangs who now roam the neighborhood. They feed him and cuddle up like puppies. Ultimately, everything builds up to a final confrontation that may not be what you expected.

Eastwood the actor is still mostly a glare and a snarl. But his gifts as a director continue to deepen. In someone else’s hands, “Gran Torino” may have come off simplistic or even condescending, but thanks to this American master, it does exactly what it needs to do. Simply entertain, with just a smidgen of something to think about.

And God Bless Clint for doing one very important thing: he tackles bigotry in somewhere other than the South. Gee, so it IS a nation-wide problem.

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Home Movies: Happy birthday, Donald Duck https://likethedew.com/2009/06/10/home-movies-happy-birthday-donald-duck/ https://likethedew.com/2009/06/10/home-movies-happy-birthday-donald-duck/#respond Thu, 11 Jun 2009 01:09:03 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=3365

741donald-duck-postersHope you’re feeling ducky because yesterday was Donald Duck’s 75th Anniversary.

Yep, he made his debut on June 9, 1934, in a Disney-ized version of “The Wise Little Hen.” He plays one of the farmyard animals who beg off when the titular hen asks for help for the harvest. His voice was provided by Clarence Nash who remained Donald’s spokesperson for 50 years.

According to IMDB, Nash claimed he based Donald’s inimitable sound on his pet goat, Mary, who made a similar noise when she was hungry. Nash also provided the voices for Daisy Duck, and Donald’s nephews, Huey, Dewie and Louie, but in a higher octave.

Known for his fine feathers, foul temper and sailor suit, Donald never quite had the same Big Screen career as his Disney colleague, Mickey Mouse. But he did appear with Daffy Duck (his Warner Brothers’ equivalent, species-wise at least) in 1988’s  “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The pair played a not-so-ducky piano duet, which ends in shambles when Daffy’s well, daffiness, drives Donald over the edge.

When Nash died in 1975, Tony Anselmo took over as his permanent replacement. He claims he learned the voice from Nash himself, but you can tell the difference. Promise.

Subject for further discussion: the re-release of “Fatal Attraction.”

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Home Movies: Revolution and Defiance https://likethedew.com/2009/06/03/home-movies-revolution-and-defiance/ https://likethedew.com/2009/06/03/home-movies-revolution-and-defiance/#respond Thu, 04 Jun 2009 01:04:40 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=3046

08movie-revolutionary-roadArguably the best movie of 2008, “Revolutionary Road” arrives on DVD this week.

Passed over by the Oscars and semi-ignored by many of the major critics’ groups, Sam Mendes’ searing look at a couple going under in late ‘50s suburbia has even more of an impact on the small screen. The intimacy of home viewing adds considerably to the growing claustrophobia that envelops both the movie and the main characters, expertly played by  Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet (yes, Winslet did win an Oscar, but it was for the infinitely inferior “The Reader.”’)

Based on Richard Yates’ 1961 cult novel about being buried alive in the ‘burbs, the movie reunites those crazy “Titanic” kids, casting them this time as a slightly-Bohemian couple (they meet in Greenwich Village) now condemned to a life of gray flannel suits and neighbors like Kathy Bates who drop in for a morning cup of coffee and DON”T LEAVE.

A flicker of hope appears in their shared dream of moving to Paris, but it leads to …. well, icebergs come in all shapes and sizes.

Di Caprio and Winslet chart the movie’s intricate course of rage, frustration and sorrow with pinprick acuity. The showy scenes go to Michael Shannon as Bates’ adult son, fresh from a stint in what was then casually referred to as the “looney bin.” The Academy recognized him with a best supporting nomination (he lost to Heath Ledger’s ghost), but told everyone else to basically piss off, as the British say.

Ignore the Academy. Get the film. Extras include commentary by Mendes, a “making of” featurette and a few deleted scenes.

And if you’re in the mood for a double dose of marital strife, rent “Shoot the Moon,” starring Diane Keaton and Albert Finney, or the ultimate until-death-do-us-part picture, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

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defiance-tsrposter-bigI don’t know about you but until I saw “Defiance,” I never knew a thing about the Bielski brothers who saved hundreds of Jewish lives during World War II.

Perhaps that’s why I found it easier to overlook some basic structural problems in the movie that has … finally … been made about them.

When the Nazis invaded Belorussia, the brothers, who were farmers, not city folk, took to the woods they knew so well. There, they hid out from the Germans from 1941 until he end of the war. During those years, they were joined by other Jews seeking to escape the concentration camps.

Daniel Craig — yes, 007 himself — plays the oldest brother and the leader while Liev Schreiber is his more explosive younger brother and Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot,” all grown up) is the very youngest, who proves to be every bit as capable as his older siblings. Creating a mini-village in the midst of the forest, the brothers soon discover there are other enemies than the Germans. The weather, for one; each other, for another. Edward Zwick (“Blood Diamond,” “Glory”) skillfully explores the tensions that come from within as well as from without as these essentially urban people, more trained in studying the Old Testament than hammering nails, struggle to adapt — and survive. One helpful ploy the men come up with: the notion of forest wives, as in mistresses for the moment.

The film feels long and a bit unbalanced, as if Zwick had so much good stuff to tell, he couldn’t decide what to take out.

Still, it’s an amazing and little-known story of unparalleled heroism — well-acted and smartly directed. Extras include the usual “making of¯” short, plus interviews with the children of some of the survivors. And yeah, you’ve seen plenty of Holocaust stories, but you haven’t seen one like this. Promise.

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Home Movies: Valor … and ‘Blood’ https://likethedew.com/2009/05/20/home-movies-valor-and-blood/ https://likethedew.com/2009/05/20/home-movies-valor-and-blood/#comments Wed, 20 May 2009 17:41:28 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=2599

tom-cruise-valkyrieMemorial Day is intended to honor American soldiers, but valor isn’t necessarily a matter of nationality.

“Valkyrie” has just been released on DVD and it’s a strangely fitting Memorial Day movie. Based on the true story of a plot hatched by some German officers to assassinate Hitler in 1944, the film stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the leader of the group. Maimed in battle (Cruise sports an eyepatch and crippled hand), Stauffenberg is the stuff B-movie action heroes are made of: cunning, courageous and perhaps a tad less complicated than one would like (well, hell, a lost eye and a mad-dog Fuhrer are probably complications enough).

Anyway — and I’m not spoiling anything for anyone, I hope — the plot fails, though more through a matter of bad luck than anything else.

“Valkyrie” was released in theaters at Christmas and given its serious theme, hefty running time and Big Name star, I think it was wrongly perceived as pure Oscar-bait posturing by some and never got a fair shot. But it’s a surprisingly satisfying and even gripping picture. Cruise does just fine as one of those handful of Good Germans who apparently weren’t in total goose-step with the Nazis and he’s surrounded himself with a small battalion of British actors who know exactly how movies like this work. Among them are Bill Nighy, Kenneth Brannagh, Tom Wilkinson and, Terence Stamp, who comes off like a wrathe from an earlier anti-war generation who would’ve loved the movie’s “Patton-esque” military-heroes-ain’t-so-simple” patina (No, it isn’t THAT good, but still… .)

For other tales of good soldiers in other uniforms, take a look at Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” his under-rated companion work to his even more under-rated “Flags of Our Fathers,” and Paul Verhoeven’s “Soldier of Orange,” starring Rutger Hauer as one of the leaders of the Dutch resistance during World War II.

And then there’s the recently released “Wise Blood,” a minor late-in-his-career masterpiece by John Huston based on … well, I would call it a minor masterpiece again, but it’s always struck me that everything Flannery O’Connor wrote was somehow a masterpiece in a minor key.

wiseblood“Wise Blood,”  which was filmed, sometimes quite recognizably, in Macon and Atlanta in the late ‘70s, stars Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes. An, um, quirky Army veteran, Motes returns to his rural South roots to found the Church without Christ where “the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk and the dead stay that way.”

This haunting, serio-comic Gothic tale is done to a turn by Huston, Dourif (then fresh off an Oscar nomination as the tragic stutterer Billy Bibbit in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) and a master class of character actors led by Harry Dean Stanton and Ned Beatty. And that’s Huston himself as Hazel’s fire-and-brimstone granddaddy.

Long unavailable for home viewing, this Criterion release offers such excellent extras as an audio recording of O’Connor reading some of he own work and a 1982 interview with Huston conducted by Bill Moyers.

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Home Movies: Mickey Rourke from the heart https://likethedew.com/2009/04/23/home-movies-mickey-rourke-from-the-heart/ https://likethedew.com/2009/04/23/home-movies-mickey-rourke-from-the-heart/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2009 23:26:49 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=1477

mickey_rourke_110807_0001For maybe a nano-second, I wondered if Mickey Rourke might not be the much-needed New Jack Nicholson. You know, the old warrior, godlike in his aura of sex-drugs-and-rock ‘n roll. To whom you’d cut when things got slow (as they inevitably did) on the Oscar show.  If HE was still having a good time (or so it seemed), so should we.

Smilin’ Jack had become less of a fixture at award shows, Oscar or otherwise. Age, perhaps, has hastened his recent absences. Or, just as probably, no new nominations or noteworthy movies.

Anyway, thanks to his extraordinary from-the-heart performance in “The Wrestler,” Rourke was a bonafide front-runner at this year’s Oscars. He’d already proved a fine cut-away, with his thumbs-up, camera-friendly, how-stoned-am-I grin and rambling but irresistible acceptance speeches. I mean, who else thanks their dog and makes an impassioned plea on behalf of Eric Roberts at his moment of triumph?

Alas, after winning a slew of awards, Rourke lost the big one, the Oscar, to an equally deserving (albeit certainly less colorful in the RIGHT way) Sean Penn for his genius performance in “Milk.”

Still, it’s the work that matters, right? Well, right or not, “The Wrestler” reminds us what all the fuss was about to begin with — decades ago — in movies like “Body Heat” and “Diner.” “The Wrestler,” in which Rourke plays a washed-up former champ striving for a come-back, offers one of those amazing actor/role congruences. Not only did Rourke himself do a few years on the pro wrestling circuit, the plot provides an eerie parallel to the actor’s own comeback-kid story.

I was admittedly worried that Rourke’s courageously outsized portrayal might be just that —  too big for a smaller screen. Surprisingly, nothing is lost in the DVD version; if anything, we gain a better perspective on the more nuanced aspects of Rourke’s work. The roar remains, but the weary whimper of a man whose life lesson has been a bitter one — fail better — can be heard, too. And Mickey behind a deli counter is one for the history books.

“The Last Picture Show” has arrived on the DVD shelves curiously paired with “Nickelodeon.”

The former is one of the most affecting films ever made about movies and memory. The latter is an antic mess that heralded the now-unsalvageable downward trajectory of director Peter Bogdanovich’s career.

It turns out there’s a reason for the double-disc coupling.

Bogdanovich directed both. Double duh, but I’d forgotten.

He was at the zenith of his career when he made “Nickelodeon” in 1976. Okay, so his mega-musical, “At Long Last Love” had tanked big time a year earlier. Bogdanovich was still “in play,” so to speak, and a hit could’ve carried him effortlessly over the previous debacle (as well, if you are counting, “Daisy Miller”… and you probably should).

Alas, it’s hard to think of a more embarrassing “tribute” to those crazy days of madcap moviemaking, circa 1910-15, than “Nickelodeon” Caught in the breathless (airless?) vortex are some of the biggest names of the mid-‘70s: Burt Reynolds, Ryan O’Neal and Ryan’s not-so-little girl, the youngest Oscar winner ever, the increasingly less darling, Tatum.

But backtrack a few years to 1971 and, arguably, Bogdanovich’s best film — “The Last Picture Show.”  Set in a dreary dust-choked Texas town in the 1950s, it’s an elegy for the closing of, yes, the last picture show, i.e., the town theater. The cast is headed by Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson (both won Oscars), Ellen Burstyn and Timothy Bottoms, all of whom give, artful, sensitive performances. And perhaps equally noteworthy, this is when Peter Met Cybill (Shepherd), launching a romance, if not for the ages, at least, for the early ‘70s.

Both films offer commentary by Bogdanovich who, despite (perhaps because of??) his many failings, is one of the most astute film critics of our time. It’s interesting, to say the least, to hear what he has to say.

And what he doesn’t.

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The legends of the Old West … and Old South https://likethedew.com/2009/04/21/the-legends-of-the-old-west-and-old-south/ https://likethedew.com/2009/04/21/the-legends-of-the-old-west-and-old-south/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2009 22:58:36 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=1381

liberty “This is the West, Sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

It may be one of the most famous movie lines from one of the least famous movies … ever.

If nothing else, it gives that dying breed, the newspaper writer, a bit of a grin. Them’s was the days … maybe.

Edmond O’Brien plays the raffishly alcoholic editor of the Shinbone paper in John Ford’s late-career classic, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

But it’s a younger man — an inheritor of O’Brien’s proud windbag tradition — who actually says the line.

It’s his “who-cares?” response to  a story told by distinguished Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart)  after explaining  he’s NOT the man who shot Liberty Valance. That honor — and subsequent career-launching notoriety — belongs to Tom Doniphon (John Wayne).

The Senator, who is now (1910) being quietly talked up as a potential Presidential candidate, has returned with his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) to Shinbone after almost 30 years or so. Their mission:  to pay respects to thier deceased friend, an obscure local rancher named Doniphon.

The man who DID shoot Liberty Valance.

Stoddard owes his political career to a falsehood …. or a legend, to put it more kindly.  Liberty Valance — a feral, no-good gunslinger, played with a lethal snarl and wild-eyed swagger by Lee Marvin — was a man who needed killing.

As the title song, pithily sung by Gene Pitney tells us,

“When Liberty Valance rode to town, the women folk would hide//They’d hide.

When Liberty Valance walked around, the men would step aside

Because the point of a gun was the only law that Liberty understood.

When it came to shooting straight and fast//He was mighty good.”

One of Ford’s last movies,  “Liberty Valance” was one from the heart. Ford had created the myth of the Wild West almost single-handedly, in movies such as “Stagecoach,” “My darling Clementine” and “The Searchers.”

Now he was going to shoot it right between the eyes.

In a sense, Ford’s mythic Old West has a lot in common with the “Old South.” Both share a colorful but chequered history, much of which is shrouded by hear-say and seemed-like-that.

Stewart’s character  is a young lawyer who, following Horace Greeley’s “Go West, Young Man” dictum, comes to Shinbone where, even before getting into town, he’s humiliated and almost beaten to death by the antic and rabid Valance and his gang. Tended to by Hallie and her immigrant parents, Stoddard ends up working in their restaurant as payback. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, he’s tripped by Valance while carrying Doniphon his steak dinner. The seemingly minor incident explodes to the point of near violence, with guns drawn and threats uttered.

But Stoddard intercedes, avoiding bloodshed while, at the same time, bringing further humiliation on himself. He is, after all, wearing a frilly apron, just like a GIRL.

Here, in a nutshell, is Ford’s ambivalence toward taming the Old West. He understands that dinner can no longer be settled by a gunfight. But he also says that civilization must adjust, too. It can’t come courting in frilly aprons.

Yet it is the killing of Liberty Valance that gives civilization a foothold — not lawyer’s words, an editor’s posturing or womanly ways.

The South, by contrast, found its mythology bound up in crinolines, whether it wanted to or not. Some of that can be laid squarely at the feet of one Peggy Mitchell and a certain green-eyed heroine.

But a lot of it is inevitable for the simple reason that the Civil War didn’t stop at steak dinners and wasn’t over in a matter of a few dark nights. It kept on going, killing fields for almost five years, that stripped a region of a generation (or more) of men and left a generation (or more) of women to remember.

To remember, it must be said, selectively, in ways good and bad. True and false. Inclusively and bigoted.

We all hold home-grown legends dear, even when we know better.

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