Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Golden Globes: My Hopes for Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the 69th Annual Golden Globes ceremony.  I, unfortunately, won't be watching it live (because I have no cable or digital antennae connection), but thanks to the internet, I'll still know the winners instantly.  And, of course, the next day I will be watching all the clips of Ricky Gervais hosting again.  But for now, I'll just talk up my opinion of who I'd like to see win tomorrow.

Let's start with Best Supporting Actor and Actress in a Motion Picture.  This category always seems unfair to me.  Unlike the Best Actor, Actress, and Picture categories, all drama, comedy, and musical performances get lumped together.  This always inevitably means that a dramatic performance will win over a comedic performance.  It's a disappointment I've heard many share, yet it still happens every year.  Not that I believe the dramatic performances were bad.  I just wish comedic performances got more credit.  This year, however, there are no comedic performances in these two categories.  For Actor, I'm hoping either Kenneth Branagh or Albert Brooks wins.  Branagh does a superb job portraying Sir Laurence Olivier in "My Week With Marilyn."  And Brooks made a magnificent, against-character choice to play a LA mobster in "Drive."  As for Actress, I would be happy if it went to either of "The Help" actresses, Jessica Chastain or Octavia Spencer, but by earlier awards, I think it's going to Spencer (which is much, much deserved).

Best Actor and Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama has several wonderful performances in it, but quite a few that I just don't understand.  Wooooo, Glenn Close plays a woman pretending to be man in "Albert Nobbs," but have any of the voters actually seen that movie??  It's horrible!  There are no likable characters, no arch to anyone, and no real resolution to a story you don't care about.  Also, even though it's named "Albert Nobbs," he really doesn't have much influence on the story at all.  And Nobb's (Glenn Close's character) reasoning for pretending to be a man makes no sense at all.  I love Close, but this is not her best work.  And for the men, I don't see what the big deal is about "Moneyball." It's an interesting story, but other than that, no big deal, movie-wise.  Brad Pitt gave a much, much better performance in "Inglourious Basterds."  As for the rest, Clooney is good, but he's still being Clooney.  Ryan Gosling should have been nominated for "Drive" instead of "Ides of March."  And once again, Meryl Streep gives an amazing performance, but it feels repetitive.  My two hopes are Viola Davis for "The Help" and Michael Fassbender for "Shame."

Now, as for Best Actor and Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical, the nominees are a little more all over the board.  Like I mentioned before, the division of all these categories is odd.  Most musicals that make it onto the nominees list are dramas, so putting them up against actual comedic performances is a bit unfair.  Also, the definition of comedy or musical is very blurry.  I would never consider "My Week with Marilyn" a comedy, so I'm guessing they submitted it as a musical, but there are only two songs in the entire film.  Both "Carnage" and "Young Adult" are depressing dark comedies, but at least "Young Adult" doesn't make you want to stab your eyes out as much, just to make the arguing stop.  And "The Artist," my favorite film of the year, could be labeled comedy, drama, musical, caper...okay, maybe not the last one, but putting "The Artist" in this category was clearly a PR move to get less competition.  But I still hope Jean Dujardin for "The Artist" wins for Actor, and I'm guessing Michelle Williams will win for "Marilyn," though I would love Kristen Wigg to win for "Bridesmaids," the only true comedy in the bunch.

Finally, Best Picture - Drama and Musical/Comedy...Once again, the Comedy section walks a thin line of how they all fit in this category, but my bet (happily) is on "The Artist."  As for Drama, everybody seems to love "The Descendants."  It was a good film, but not great or worthy of all this praise.  Maybe it's just me, because I'm bombarded by it more than others - but there were much better films this year.  Also, again, I don't understand the craze for "Moneyball" either.  Are people this year just so happy to see their teenage crushes on screen?  Is that it?  The other big contender, "War Horse," was good but not great.  It was like Steven Spielberg really wanted to make his own "Gone with the Wind," (because he doesn't have any other epics that big in his career...riiiiiight).  Anyway, it is very melodramatic.  So that leaves my two tops - "The Help" and "Hugo."  I think I would be happy with either of them winning.

So those are my choices for tomorrow.  Let's see how well I did later.  Anybody wanna make a bet?  (Teehee)  Until later, everyone!  Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011: The Best of the Best

Okay, it's hard to keep up a blog without at least self-made deadlines or goals.  (Paid deadlines would be even better, but, hey, can't have everything...yet.)  So I am officially back with a new goal to post one entry every week!  And this time it doesn't end on New Year's Day 2013.  This goal goes on until my computer breaks, my hands stop working, or I run out of movies.  So HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!  Welcome to 2012!

I thought I'd start out this year with the quintessential January post - the year in review.  2011 was a great year, I must say.  Personally, I moved in with my boyfriend and got engaged (yay me!), but even movie-wise, there were some amazing films.  However, my favorite of them all has to be "The Artist," hands down.  If you ever, EVER have a chance to see it, do!  I'm not a big silent movie fan, due to a couple of factors.  One - my love of movies started from watching big musicals like "The Sound of Music."  I love the huge numbers, and tend to sing along with them.  Hence, I like sound.  Two - I never really liked the over-the-top pantomiming of silent actors.  After seeing "The Artist," though, my perception of silent films completely changed.  Jean Dujardin, who plays the titular artist George Valentin (a wonderful mix between Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly), did an amazing job!  Not only was he able to do the silent era pantomime to a tee without over-hamming it, he also portrayed such believable, subtle, emotions during the dramatic parts.  He is definitely my favorite performance of the year.  If you love the history of film at all, "The Artist" is a must see.

Also in my tops for the year is "Hugo," a great choice for a double feature with "The Artist."  When I first heard Martin Scorsese was directing a children's movie, I was very curious.  What made Scorsese, of all people, want to direct this fanciful film about an orphaned boy living in a Paris train station.  Then I saw the film, and I understood completely.  It is a magical story that ultimately tells a tale about the beginning of film.  Both the young boy playing Hugo (Asa Butterfield, who is set to star in the upcoming "Ender's Game," which I'm stoked about!!) and Ben Kingsley, a lowly toy shop owner, give beautiful performances.  And Scorsese's art direction along with his use of 3D was breathtaking (and I'm usually not a 3D fan).  Unfortunately, "Hugo" suffers from some common flaws.  It is an adaptation of a novel, so some of the minor characters' importance in the book doesn't translate to the film.  And also, I don't think it was marketed properly.  The nature of the story changes course halfway through the film, so I believe Paramount didn't quite know how to promote it properly.  It is worth seeing, though.

My second favorite film of the year was "Rango," my definite choice for Best Animated Feature.  Going in to see "Rango," I was very, very skeptical.  It's trailers where just odd.  But while watching it, I had one of those great movie experiences, where you are so pleasantly surprised by how much you are loving it, you are smiling from ear to ear.  It has one of the most original stories I have seen in a while, let alone in an animated film.  Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp together once again - never a bad combo.  Plus the actors actually acted out their parts all together for the entire film, and then the animators copied their expressions.  Not with motion-capture technology, but with good old side-by-side comparison.  I think it's a little over the top for young kids (there are some very grown-up jokes in there), but my four-year-old niece absolutely loves it too.

Finally, the best franchise conclusion ever was last year - "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2."  I had been waiting for this for a long time, but I also didn't want it to end.  I watched the live broadcast of the premiere in London and cried.  I watched JK Rowling hug and thank the main three and cried.  I even read all the articles about everyone saying goodbye and cried.  But when the night came, and I had my Potter glasses on, my handmade lightning bolt pin on my shirt, and my tickets in hand, I could not help but bounce up and down.  And I was not disappointed.  It was a great conclusion.  "Part 1" is still my favorite, but "Part 2" is a resounding second.  The only thing I wish was different was the ending of the battle, without the small "that scene should be bigger" feeling in it.  But all in all, I hope and wish it gets more awards recognition than it probably will.  That team did an amazing job over the last decade.

So, those are my tops for 2011.  I highly recommend each of them.  See or rent them this month while the crapper stuff of 2012 comes out in the theaters.  Until next week!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Happy 100th, Lucy!!!

Helloooooooo!  Nice to see you again!  It's been so, so long.  I'm sorry I've been away.  Did you miss me?  Maybe a little?  Well, you know how life can just get away from you sometimes.  But I'm back and ready to resume more great posts for your enjoyment.  And what better write-up to start with than this weekend!  I mean, how could I miss this?  Me, of all people??... What am I talking about?  Why, tomorrow, of course - Lucille Ball's 100th birthday!!

If you've read my posts before, you already know how much I love Lucy, and not just the television show, but everything she did.  Since I was a little girl, I've watched Lucille Ball with reverence, admiration, and plenty of envy.  Oddly, one of the strongest memories I have as a child is the 1989 news report that Lucy had passed away.  I was only eleven then, and I wasn't even watching her extensively yet.  However, the impact she already had on me was evident, as I stared at the television screen, watching her "In Memoriam" and crying.

She had such talent, yet such beauty and ferocity.  She's someone I don't think I could have ever met in real life though, without fainting on site.  Her life, not just her work, was such an inspiration.  Born in 1911 in Jamestown, New York, she lost her father at the age of three and had to grow up fast to look after her younger brother while their mother worked two jobs.  Even though they all lived with her grandparents, Lucy eventually left Jamestown at 16 to attend an acting high school in New York City.  She worked along classmate Bette Davis, but only for a little while, as she was soon sent home for being "too shy."  (Yep!  Lucy...too shy!)

A couple of years later, Lucy tried her luck in New York again.  Using the stage name Dianne Belmont, she started working as a model.  Unfortunately, she contracted a bad case of rheumatoid arthritis and spent the next two years back home in intense therapy re-learning how to walk.  But that didn't keep her down for long.  She returned to New York once again, and as they say, "third time's the charm."  She started her acting career with a few small, short-lived chorus parts here and there, which led her to be noticed by Samuel Goldwyn.  She joined the Goldwyn Girls, a dance company, and moved to Hollywood.  Though she didn't remain with the Girls long, she was signed to a contract by RKO.

At RKO, she began the best training of her career by none other than Ginger Rogers' mom.  She took acting classes, became part of RKO's budding-stars group (which included people like Rogers and Henry Fonda), and began with bit parts in films like "Roberta" and "Follow the Fleet."  Finally, after a successful performance in a supporting part alongside Rogers and Katherine Hepburn in "Stage Door," Lucy was given her first starring role in "The Affairs of Annabel."  It was only a B-movie, but it began her career as "The Queen of the Bs."  She continued this queen role for almost a decade before she her next queen role, "The Queen of Comedy." 

She broke out of B-films for a while when she moved over to MGM.  With their Technicolor marvels, her brightly-tinted red hair (originally a brunette) was an asset like never before.  Her first starring role in an A-movie was the musical "Du Barry was a Lady" alongside Gene Kelly and Red Skelton.  She made a few more pictures for MGM, but unfortunately, the studio really didn't know how to use her yet.  She fought to get out of her contract, and once successful, she moved into the radio medium with "My Favorite Husband," the show that would bring about the Lucy most of us know today.

I loved all her films.  The spunk, the sarcasm, well...I don't know if I managed to pick up enough of it as I dreamed of (probably to many people's delight), but I know I would not be who I am today without it.  TCM is celebrating her 100th birthday with a marathon of her films all day long.  My recommendations, if you can't sit there all day long, are "Without Love" (1945) at 9:30am EST (with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), "Dance, Girl, Dance" (1940) at 6:15pm EST (with Maureen O'Hara and the film she was shooting when she first met Desi),  "Stage Door" (1937) at 8pm EST, and "Easy to Wed" (1946) at 11:30pm EST (Lucy in Technicolor with Esther Williams and Van Johnson).  Trust me, you don't want to pass up this celebration.  Until next time, everyone.  And Happy Birthday, Ms. Ball, wherever you are.

(Post-tidbit: LIFE magazine released some never-before published photos of Lucy today (even though I've had one of them on my wall since high school).  You can enjoy the slideshow here.  Also, for a video treat - two of my favorite things rolled into one - Lucy and London...)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Hollywood Icon

As I’m sure you all know, Elizabeth Taylor passed away last Wednesday at the age of 79. I have to admit that it wasn’t much of a shock for me. She had been ailing for so many years. But it’s still sad to see the passing of the woman who was the epitome of classic Hollywood. So here’s my little tribute to the great actress and icon.

There are really just two types of stars that most people think of when they are asked about Hollywood of old – the ones who died too soon like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean…or the ones that were the essence of glamour and American royalty like Taylor. That sure is what Taylor has always meant to me. She was amazingly beautiful, a wonderful actress who managed to move from child to adult star (a rare feat in Hollywood), and had a private life just as dramatic as her films.

Born in England in 1932, her American parents decided to move the family back to the States when the threat of war was imminent in the UK. And their choice of cities? Los Angeles, where almost immediately a friend suggested the strikingly beautiful Taylor make a screen test. This won her her first contract…but not to MGM, the studio that would make her a star. No, first it was Universal Studios, but they dropped her contract after one picture (“There’s One Born Every Minute” (1942)).

But Taylor’s mother took her to see Louis B. Mayer of MGM, and the gentleman was captivated by the little girl with the bright violet eyes. (Taylor was actually born with a double set of lashes, which just made her vibrant eyes pop even more.) At MGM, she had a couple of small parts in “Lassie Come Home” and “Jane Eyre” (both 1943) before landing the role that made her career, “National Velvet” (1944). MGM kept her busy but she would never have that same success again, not until her first marriage.

That marriage was to Conrad “Nicky” Hilton (great-uncle to Paris Hilton) in 1950. It really was a loveless marriage, a publicity stunt pushed on her by the studio for her new film “Father of the Bride.” Yes, that film would start her on the path to adult stardom but it would also be the beginning of a sea of marriages. After her short union with Hilton (less than a year), it was Michael Wilding, then Mike Todd. However, it was Todd’s sudden death that would propel Taylor into the world of the paparazzi, a relatively new fascination, unlike today.

Todd died a little over a year after they were married in a plane crash. Taylor’s best friend Debbie Reynolds and Todd’s best friend Eddie Fisher were her companions during mourning. Only Fisher consoled her a little more than was appropriate, leading to the biggest Hollywood scandal to date (much like the Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie scandal of today, as Reynolds’ daughter Carrie Fisher often likes to compare). Taylor broke up “America’s Sweethearts” (also another studio-pushed marriage) and became the black widow. Reynolds and Fisher divorced, and then Taylor and Fisher married (her fourth if you’re keeping track).

Yet it was her next romance that made Taylor more famous for being herself than an actress. She signed on to make “Cleopatra” (1963) for a record $1 million (unheard of for actresses of that time). This would lead her to the love of her life, a lesser-known Welsh actor named Richard Burton. After the grueling production was completely moved from England to Rome, Burton was signed on to replace the first Anthony to Taylor’s Cleopatra. Their chemistry was instantaneous to all around. And thus began Taylor’s second public scandal in a row, as still-married-to-Fisher Taylor started her biggest affair with married Burton.

It was a romance for the ages. Taylor fell head over heels for the harsh, rough Burton with a voice of gold. She divorced Fisher but remained Burton’s mistress. Burton in turn had no idea what he was getting into as well. Quoted as saying about their affair and the mass media that followed them constantly, “How did I know she was so f*&%ing famous?” But he was hooked, and though he had always stated in his many affairs beforehand that he would never divorce (being a devout catholic), Taylor was too much for him, and he finally divorced his wife. Taylor and Burton then married and had ten rocky, passionate, roller coaster years together before divorcing. They would then remarry a year later, only to divorce once again in less than a year. But Taylor stated for the rest of her life that Burton was the love of her life…and Burton the same of Taylor. They would keep in touch for the rest of Burton’s life.

So maybe now they can be together in peace, free of the prying eyes and pressures of life. May you be in peace, Ms. Taylor. You were a bright star on earth and are now one in the heavens. Until next time, everyone.

(Post-tidbit: The day after Taylor died, she was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. Per her instructions, the ceremony was delayed 15 minutes. She wanted to be late to her own funeral. She had a sense of humor to the end. She now lies next to her good friend Michael Jackson.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hollywood 101: Hollywood’s Original Showman

Next week, on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s the birthday of someone so influential in Hollywood that I’m sure you all know his name yet don’t know anything more about him than that. He was a showman, but not on the silver screen. He’s the one that brought luxury to the movie palaces of old, with his greatest being a little place called the Chinese Theatre. I’m talking about none other than Mr. Sid Grauman.

Born in 1879 in Indiana, Grauman was one of those types, the kind that traveled the country trying to make more of an exciting fortune. Before getting into the movie theater business, he tried his luck as a prospector during the Klondike gold rush. Failing at that, he bought his first live theater there in Alaska. He then moved down to San Francisco and opened The Unique, a vaudeville theater that would start his rise to Hollywood greatness. He had performers like Al Jolson, “Fatty” Arbuckle, and Sophie Tucker playing in his theaters, for within a few years, he had two others up and running. Sadly, the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake leveled all three theaters. This didn’t dismay him though. He set up a massive tent on the grounds of The Unique, with a sign advertising that in case of aftershocks, there would be “nothing to fall on you but canvas.” He sold 10,000 tickets per day.

Several years later after building his theaters back up, Grauman sold them to Adolf Zukor (founder of Paramount Pictures) and moved to Los Angeles to begin what would lead to three of the most extravagant theaters in the world. His first theater was called the Million Dollar Theatre (because of the rumored price tag). The Million Dollar opened in 1918 on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. At that time, Broadway was the center of the film world, not Hollywood. (Hollywood itself was still a budding community trying to build up.) Built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, it rivaled all other theaters on Broadway. It opened with “The Silent Man” and had stars like Cecil B. DeMille, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin in attendance on opening night. The Million Dollar was the place to go. And its success allowed Grauman to purchase the Rialto and the Metropolitan down the street. Yet, he sold all his interests in the downtown theaters to focus on a new location – Hollywood.

With help from Charles E. Toberman (nicknamed the “Father of Hollywood” for developing some of Hollywood’s most famous attractions, including the Hollywood Bowl, the El Capitan, and the Roosevelt Hotel), Grauman started on his first Hollywood Blvd. theater, the Egyptian. Thanks to the Egyptian craze sweeping the nation due to archaeologist Howard Carter’s hunt for Tutankhamun’s tomb, Grauman decided to use it for the grand theater’s international theme. After 18 months of construction and $800,000 spent, the Egyptian opened with the first-ever Hollywood-based world premiere in October 1922 with Douglas Fairbanks’ “Robin Hood.” Tickets for the premiere were a whopping $5, and the film ran in no other theater in LA for the rest of the year. The next big premiere was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” with which Grauman himself produced a live preshow including 100 costumed performers, a trait he would continue in all his theaters as long as he was able.

But Grauman had already started shifting his attention to his next theater down the road, the Chinese. Again with developer Toberman, as well as Grauman’s fellow shareholders Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Howard Schenck, construction begin on the famous movie palace. Bells, sculptures and artwork were flown in from China. Artists were brought in to make sculptures on the spot. And a man by the name of Jean Klossner was brought in to create a courtyard. There are several variations on how Grauman and Klossner came up with the idea of the footprints in the courtyard. One story said they got the idea after popular actress Norma Talmadge stepped in wet cement on opening night. Another story credits Pickford with accidentally stepping in the cement while chasing her dog through the construction site. Yet another claims Grauman just did it in fun one day and asked Pickford, who was standing nearby, to do the same. Whatever the true story though, it has become THE popular attraction for the Chinese, making it famous worldwide.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre opened in May 1927 with DeMille’s “The King of Kings,” a premiere so sought after that there were riots with the fans trying to catch a glimpse of their Hollywood idols. The epitome of movie palaces, the Chinese was Grauman’s masterpiece. But in 1929 like so many others, he lost all his money in the stock markets. He sold his share in the Chinese and the Egyptian to Fox West Theaters but remained its managing director until his death in 1950.

Though the days of the glamorous theaters are gone, all three palaces still exist today. After the industry lost interest in downtown, Broadway started to become the Spanish community’s movie paradise. In 1949, the Million Dollar was purchased by Frank Fouce, a local Spanish language theater owner, and became the place to see Spanish-language films and performers. However, due to deteriorating times, the Million Dollar closed in 1993 and was sold off to a church who took very poor care of it, destroying much of the interior design. However the church eventually evacuated to another old movie palace down the road. The theater reopened in 2008 after spending more than $1 million on its refurbishment and is again focusing on the Spanish community.

The Egyptian, much like Hollywood itself, fell into much disrepair during the 70s and 80s. In 1996 though, LA sold the theater to the American Cinematheque for only $1 under the condition that they would refurbish the place to its original grandeur and purpose. After a $12.5 million renovation, the Egyptian reopened in 1998. However it is not exactly the same. The once large 2,000-seat auditorium was broken up into two theaters, one seating only 616, the other 77.

As for the Chinese, it has remained the image of Hollywood all these years, thanks to its “Forecourt of the Stars.” There are now nearly 200 handprints, footprints, autographs, and other variations (like the Harry Potter stars’ wands or Bob Hope’s nose) in the courtyard. It has been the host of thousands of premieres and even three Academy Awards ceremonies. Renamed Mann’s Chinese Theatre for a short time between 1973 to 2001, it is back to Grauman’s, owned by the same company that owns the Hollywood & Highland complex next door (home of the Kodak Theatre, the Academy Awards current home), and still remains the top-sought place to hold a premiere in Hollywood.

So, next time you’re in LA, take a look around you at the creations of Mr. Grauman, the man that started Hollywood’s glamorous standard. Have a great weekend, everyone! Til next week.

(Post-tidbit: You may have seen The Million Dollar Theatre already. It was prominently featured in “Blade Runner" (1982), for across the street is the famous Bradbury building which was used throughout the film, especially for the climatic ending.)