Friday, June 11, 2010

For the Weekend: Pick Your Drama

I don't know about you, but thank goodness it's almost the weekend.  With the morning I've already had, I can't wait to just relax the days away and forget all the frustration of the week.  And for this weekend, I've selected a few different dramas for your enjoyment, because there's nothing more cathartic than watching someone else's problems instead of your own.

First up, "The Wreck of the Mary Deare," the film that Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman were supposed to make for MGM.  The two men were unable to write a compelling enough story though (Hitchcock predicted it could only be made into "a boring courtroom drama"), so they used MGM's money, without telling them, to make "North by Northwest" instead.  The task of directing then went to Michael Anderson, and with stars Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, Michael Redgrave, and Richard Harris, it was finally produced and released in 1959.  Based on the novel by Hammond Innes, it tells the story of a sea captain who stays aboard a sinking ship to prove it was sabotaged.  Unfortunately, critics agreed with Hitchcock's prediction, and it didn't fare well at the box office.  It should still be fun to watch though, with such powerhouse actors, and the thought of "what would Hitch have done?" in the back of your mind.  You can catch "Mary Deare" on TCM this Saturday at 4pm EST.

The next selection comes from the literary world too - "Fahrenheit 451," the 1966 movie adaptation of Ray Bradbury's bestselling novel (and every grade school kid's required reading).  Written and directed by Francois Truffaut and starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie, it tells the tale of a futuristic fireman, yet this fireman starts fires instead of stopping them.  Mainly he burns books, which are forbidden, but when he decides to actually read one of the books he is supposed to burn, his whole life turns upside down.  Truffaut always thought science-fiction was too trite and cheesy for him, but when someone told him the story of "Fahrenheit 451," he immediately started adapting it into a script, even though he had still not fully grasped the English language.  It would take him three years to get the production started.  Originally, Terence Stamp had been cast in the movie's lead, but when Truffaut decided to have Christie play both female leads, he dropped out, thinking his former lover would overshadow him too much.  However, Truffaut's resulting lead choice Werner did not turn out well.  Werner and Truffaut detested each other.  Werner even purposely cut his hair while filming a scene so that Truffaut would have to deal with continuity errors.  It's still a great story about censorship though.  "Fahrenheit 451" is on TCM this Sunday at 3:45am EST (which is really Monday morning but TCM's schedule makes it confusing, which I just noticed, so be sure to check out my update on the scheduled time for "Love with the Proper Stranger" too) or you can stream it on Netflix.

Next up is a more recent drama, comparatively, starring this past week's birthday boy Johnny Depp - "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" (1993).  Also starring Juliet Lewis and Leonardo DiCapro in one of his best performances ever, it's about Grape (Depp) who feels trapped in his small town by both his mentally handicapped little brother (DiCapro) and his extremely obese mother (Darlene Cates).  The cast directors found Cates by calling up "The Sally Jessy Raphael Show" to ask them if they had any candidates.  When the director saw the reel the show had sent of Cates, she was cast on the spot.  Depp had a hard time acting with her though, not because of her lack of experience, but because he felt so bad about the lines he had to say to her.  Many times after a shot was done, he would apologize to her, making sure she knew he didn't mean any of it.  DiCapro is the standout of this film.  According to him, playing Arnie was "the most fun I've ever had," and it led to his first ever Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  "Gilbert Grape" is now available to watch on both Hulu and Netflix.

Finally, a slightly more action-packed drama to end your weekend with - 1983's "WarGames."  Starring a then less-known Matthew Broderick (it would be three more years until "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") and a pre-Brat Pack Ally Sheedy, as well as Dabney Coleman and John Wood, it is the story of a young high school computer genius who accidentally hacks into the NORAD system and sets off a Nuclear War simulation that could lead to World War III if they can't stop it.  Written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes (who would later write another computer hacker drama "Sneakers"), they came up with the idea after seeing a film about Stephen Hawking and wondering what would happen if he couldn't pass any of his brilliant findings on to the world.  Hawking was then approached about starring as the main scientist, but he declined when he thought they might exploit his condition.  The character of Stephen Falken was then changed to a morph between Hawking and John Lennon, and Wood was cast.  "WarGames" can be seen on both Netflix and Hulu.  (And if you want even more, dare to try out the straight-to-dvd 2008 sequel "WarGames: The Dead Code" also available on Hulu.)

All great choices for you to enjoy, I must say.  I hope you all have a drama-filled weekend, just not your own! ;-)  Have fun and I'll be back on Monday.

(Post-tidbit:  Richard Harris hated his experience working on "The Wreck of the Mary Deare" so much that he refused to return to Hollywood for five years.)

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