Monday, September 27, 2010

10 Things I Hate About You: But I Love You, Shakespeare

There have been so many different interpretations and adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays over the many, many years since Shakespeare was alive. Being a theater geek at heart, I personally love to see how people try to adapt his plays into new stories or time periods. And I have never enjoyed it more than the 1999 adaptation of “Taming of the Shrew” into “10 Things I Hate About You.”

Starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger, “10 Things” takes Shakespeare’s comedy and puts it in an all-American high school. Stiles is Katarina “Kat” Stratford, a strong, opinionated, non-dating Senior who wants nothing to do with all her shallow high school peeps and longs to get as far away as possible. When her younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), who’s not allowed to date at all, suddenly has two guys vying for her attention, their father makes the new rule that Bianca can date…when Kat does. Desperate to go out with Bianca, suitor #1 Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets suitor #2 Joey (Andrew Keegan) to pay Patrick Verona (Ledger) to go out with Kat. He agrees for the money but falls for her along the way.

It’s a sweet, smart romantic comedy for the often brainless teenage film genre. There are many clever Shakespearean repartees and inside jokes throughout. Take the last names of the main characters. Katarina and Bianca are the same character names in the play, but their last name – Stratford – comes from Shakespeare’s birth place and hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. Ledger’s character’s subsequent Shakespearean counterpart is named Petruchio, a name not easily brought into the 20th century. So instead his name becomes Patrick, but his last name becomes Verona, the hometown of Petruchio (and many other Shakespearean characters, such as Romeo and Juliet). And even the locations pay homage. The high school in “10 Things” (a beautiful old railway station hotel that was turned into Stadium High School after a fire in Tacoma, Washington) is named Padua High. “Taming of the Shrew” takes place in the town of Padua.

This film was a breakout success for both its stars. Up to that point, Julia Stiles mainly had done theater work in New York and had only a few films to her name, small parts in “The Devil’s Own” (1997) and “Wide Awake” (1998) and one lead role in “Wicked” (1998). For playing Kat in “10 Things,” she received the MTV Movie Award for Breakthrough Female Performance and the Chicago Critics awarded her with the Most Promising New Actress of the Year. “10 Things” was Heath Ledger’s first American film. He had been in a number of television shows and a few films back home in Australia before coming to the US to build his career even more. His performance in “10 Things” led to starring roles opposite Mel Gibson in “The Patriot” and Billy Bob Thornton in “Monster’s Ball” the following year. Ledger’s career continued to build, leading to his Oscar nominated performance in 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain,” but as you probably remember, was sadly cut short in January 2008 before he was able to enjoy his greatest performance ever as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” (for which he won a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).

Don’t forget about the great supporting cast in “10 Things I Hate About You” though. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is currently enjoying a career serge from his performance in “Inception,” portrays a wonderfully sweet match for Oleynik’s Bianca, right in the middle of his stint playing one of the aliens in the show “3rd Rock from the Sun.” The funny character actor Larry Miller plays Kat and Bianca’s hilariously over-protective father, a role he went on to play again in the television show “10 Things I Hate About You” 10 years later. You may recognize the nerdy Michael too – David Krumholtz from the show “Numb3rs” and from the first two “Santa Clause” films. And be sure to catch the always-fabulous Allison Janney as the school counselor (who secretly writes dirty romance novels while at work), Daryl Mitchell as the take-no-bull English teacher, and David Leisure as the girls athletics coach.

So go back to those high school days this week with the clever “10 Things I Hate About You.” If you really truly enjoy Shakespeare, you’ll love this modern retelling. Have a wonderful week, everyone!

(Post-tidbit: Julia Stiles originally auditioned for the role of Bianca before the casting directors hired her for Kat instead. And Heath Ledger beat out both Josh Hartnett and Ashton Kutcher for the role of Patrick.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

For the Weekend: Can You Take It?

Tomorrow evening, TCM is showing a night full of Tennessee Williams. Williams can be intense, I know, but if you can handle it, be sure to check out these great movies.

First up is the most famous of the bunch at 8pm EST – “A Streetcar Named Desire” from 1951. Starring Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden, it is based on Williams’ 1947 Pulitzer Prize winning play about the deterioration of an emotionally unstable widow while visiting her sister in New Orleans, destroyed by her sister’s husband. Directed by the great Elia Kazan (who directed the play on Broadway), it stars all of the original Broadway cast members except for Jessica Tandy as Blanche. The producers felt they needed more star power for the film version, because at the time, Brando had not yet reached his fame we know now. Leigh, who starred in the London production of “Streetcar” (directed by then-husband Laurence Olivier), was then cast as Blanche after first-choice Olivia de Havilland turned the part down. Only 35 at the time filming, the production had to age Leigh for the part. Also, due to the fact that the rest of the cast knew each other well from the stage production, Leigh felt like a constant outsider on the set, of which Kazan took full advantage to get the performance he needed out of Leigh. It all worked well, because come Oscar night, “Streetcar” went home with 3 out of the 4 acting trophies (a feat matched by only one other movie in history – “Network” from 1976).

After “Streetcar” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at 10:15pm EST (click here for my past blog on “Cat”), it’s “Suddenly, Last Summer” (1959), based on a one-act play of Williams that was teamed up with “Orpheus Descending” to create the production entitled “Garden District” in 1958. The film stars Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Montgomery Clift and tells the story of a woman who goes crazy after witnessing the brutal murder of her cousin the summer before and her aunt’s struggle to keep that secret locked forever. Clift was still getting over his 1956 car crash during filming, relying heavily on drugs and alcohol. Taylor pushed very hard to get him his part. Unfortunately, it was a rough shot for him, not just from the alcohol. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and producer Sam Spiegel both treated Clift horribly because he was gay. It disgusted Hepburn so much that at the end of filming, when no reshoots were needed, she went off on them and even spat in Spiegel’s face. “Suddenly, Last Summer” is on at 12:15am EST.

Finally, to wrap up the intense evening, “Sweet Bird of Youth” (1962) is on at 2:15am EST. It was adapted and directed by Richard Brooks (2nd husband of Jean Simmons) from Williams’ 1959 play of the same name. Brooks hired the two original stars of the Broadway production to star in it again – Paul Newman and Geraldine Page – as well as supporting actors Rip Torn and Madeleine Sherwood. They were joined this time around by Shirley Knight and Ed Begley (yes, father of Ed Begley Jr.) Page won a Tony for her stage performance and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress from the film. Knight also earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but Begley was the only one from the group to win, for Best Supporting Actor. Like most of Williams’ plays, “Sweet Bird” was also altered and tamed down a bit for film as well, changing the ending to something a little less harsh than the original play called for.

It may be quite a lot to take in in one sitting, but try your best to catch Tennessee Williams night tomorrow eve on TCM. They are all great films that everyone should see. Enjoy your weekend, and I’ll be back Monday like always!

(Post-tidbit: Kazan utilized another insider trick to help show Blanche’s growing insanity in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” As the story progresses, the sets get smaller and smaller to convey a sense of claustrophobia. He did this by not connecting any of the walls of the set.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Steel Magnolias: The Ultimate Chick Flick

I may be female, but I feel I don’t really match that cliché about women and their favorite films. Sure, I’ve been adolescent (“The Goonies” for example), nostalgic (“Summer Magic”), and music-happy (“The Sound of Music” – which I’m going to see this weekend at the Hollywood Bowl. Yea!). But I don’t think I’ve truly discussed anything in that category of favorites that most people would expect from your average woman…until now. I can’t help it but I must talk about a movie I can quote backwards and forwards today. It’s time to be truly girly and talk about “Steel Magnolias” (1989).

I don’t know a single woman alive during the 80s who doesn’t love this film. I didn’t get to see it in the theaters, but I can’t count anymore the number of times I’ve watched it since. I’ve even done scenes from it for auditions. I wanted to play the part of Shelby, M’Lynn, Ouiser, Truvy…basically all of them. (I still would love to play them, though Shelby’s out of the question now.) The lines are so much fun to say too. I can’t help saying “This is it. I have found it. I am in hell” without that Southern, Louisiana accent coming out with it. Ouiser’s lines are truly my favorites, the best quips ever. She started my love of curmudgeonly characters that to this day is still going strong.

Released in November of 1989, the film stars a great cast of women, including Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, and Julia Roberts. Based on the 1987 play by Robert Harling, it follows these women (and I must point out now that there are spoilers to come if you do not know this story yet) as they deal with the struggles of life and loss in a small Louisiana town. Harling, a lawyer-turned-actor-turned-writer, was having difficulty making it in New York City. Then the unthinkable happened. While giving birth, his younger sister Susan died due to complications arising from her struggle with diabetes. Unable to cope with the loss, his friends and family told him to write all his thoughts down. He did just that and in only ten days, “Steel Magnolias” was born.

During its successful Off-Broadway run, producer Ray Stark mentioned to director Herbert Ross that he should see it. Ross loved it immediately and hired Harling to adapt his play for the screen. This involved expanding it quite a lot, because the entire play took place on only one set (Truvy’s beauty shop) and included only the six female characters. So, with Ross’ guidance, Harling wrote more scenes of the wedding, the homes, the hospital, as well as adding the male characters that were only talked about in the play, like M’Lynn’s, Truvy’s and Shelby’s husbands (played wonderfully in the film by Tom Skerritt, Sam Shepard, and Dylan McDermott). Then, for authenticity, the production went down to Harling’s home town of Natchitoches, Louisiana to film the movie.

As for casting, Ross sent Shirley MacLaine (whom he had worked with before on “The Turning Point,” as well as Skerritt) and asked her which part she would like to play. According to her memoirs, MacLaine practically jumped at the chance to play the curmudgeonly Ouiser. Her best friend Clairee, played by Olympia Dukakis, was a departure for the great actress. Dukakis had spent her career until then playing ethnic characters, so to make sure she fit the environment, she hired dialect coaches and worked hard to master the Southern accent. Sally Field almost didn’t get the part of M’Lynn because the producers thought she just was too young to have a 21-year-old child…you know, until she reminded them that she actually did have a 21-year-old son. Daryl Hannah also almost missed out on the part of shy, plain Annelle because the producers thought she was just too glamorous for the part. So she proceeded to dress up as Annelle, completely dulled down, for the audition. She did such a great job at it that no one recognized her when she arrived.

Of course, the role of Shelby was the most difficult character to cast, and at first Stark and Ross were looking at Winona Ryder for the role. But after much discussion, she was deemed too young for it. So Field brought up Julia Roberts to them, then practically an unknown (she only had three movies to her name at that point). She won the part, but Ross was still a little nervous about the novice, and made things tough for her on the set. Ross, who came from a dancer’s background, demanded Roberts live a ballerina lifestyle while filming, like only eating 1000 calories a day. Roberts held her own against him though, which impressed the experienced older cast greatly. All of them admired Roberts’ talent and professionalism from the moment she walked into rehearsal, and treated her like an equal for the entire production (something that helped calm Roberts a lot, working with such greats). Julia went on to be the only member of the cast to receive an Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting Actress). She didn’t win but her career, of course, skyrocketed, and the rest is Hollywood history.

Dolly Parton also had a bit of a difficult time with Herbert Ross’ directing style. One time, he even got so frustrated, he flat-out told her she couldn’t act. In a “no kidding” response, she replied with, “I'm not an actress, I'm Dolly Parton. I'm a personality who has been hired to do this movie. You're the director. It's your job to make me look like I'm acting.” Even with those beginning frustrations, they all got along great. It was a wonderful experience for them all. For a few months, all of them, cast and crew, lived close together during a hot Louisiana summer. There were no egos with the actresses as they worked with each other and the townsfolk (who are all the extras in the film), worked in their houses (the only set built for the film was inside Truvy’s shop. Everything else were actual locations and homes), and met some of the real-life people who inspired Harling’s story (to get that authentic feel in the hospital, Ross hired the actual doctors and nurses who cared for Harling’s sister. Harling himself even makes a guest appearance as the minister who marries Shelby and Jackson).

So, this week, admit you have a girly side too, and watch the great women at work in “Steel Magnolias.” And don’t forget to have that box of tissues at your side. Have a wonderful week, everyone, and I’ll be back Friday with more great suggestions!

(Post-tidbit: CBS tried in 1990 to turn “Steel Magnolias” into a sitcom after the film’s success, continuing the story of the ladies after the film’s end. It starred Cindy Williams as M’Lynn and Sally Kirkland as Truvy, but the series was not picked up. The pilot did air though, so if anyone has it, be sure to post it!)

Video treat for today: Julia Roberts’ first appearance on Late Night with David Letterman

Friday, September 17, 2010

For the Weekend: What's Your Mood?

The weather is starting to cool down out, and the days are getting shorter and shorter. Time to start bundling up on the couch with a nice cup of hot tea, right?! …Or maybe that’s just me and my cold talking. Oh well…whatever your state might be this weekend, here are some great suggestions for you to enjoy.

Are you in the mood for a good sci-fi flick? If so, check out “Soylent Green” (1973) on TCM this Saturday at 4pm EST. It stars Charlton Heston as a New York cop in 2022, when the world is devastatingly overpopulated and the greenhouse effect has killed all edible food on the planet. The entire population must live on water rations and a food supplement known as Soylent Green. The film costars Leigh Taylor-Young, Joseph Cotton, and the great Edward G. Robinson in his last performance. (He died of cancer only 12 days after completing “Soylent Green.”) Based on the 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, the film’s ending is one of the most iconic in Hollywood history. The last line Heston speaks is actually among AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotes. If you don’t know it, be sure to watch this weekend and find out.

Maybe sci-fi is not your style, and you want something a little more lighthearted. How about “Gigi” (1958)? The famous musical stars Leslie Caron as the title character, Maurice Chevalier, and Louis Jordan, in a tale about a young French girl being trained to be a courtesan. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, written by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe, and produced by Arthur Freed, this is considered the last of MGM’s great musicals, mainly because it is the last of the well-known Freed production team to be a box-office hit. “Gigi” received 9 Oscars nominations and won all of them, including Best Picture. Based on the 1944 book by Colette, it is actually not the same as the 1952 Broadway play that made then-unknown Audrey Hepburn a star. That production was not a musical, but Freed felt they need to lighten the story up for American moviegoers, so Lerner and Loewe were brought in. Originally, Freed also wanted Hepburn to star, but by 1958, she was a busy actress and had to turn it down. You can catch this musical gem at 8p EST Saturday evening on TCM (with more Maurice Chevalier following).

But if neither sci-fi nor musicals is your forte this weekend, how about a good romantic drama? “Mogambo” (1953) starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly is on TCM Sunday eve at 6pm EST. The film (a remake of “Red Dust” (1932) which also starred Gable) tells the story of an African game hunter (for zoos and such) who gets involved with two women - Gardner who is stranded in Africa by her friend, and Kelly, a married woman on a gorilla documentary trip with her husband. During this production, Gable and Kelly had an affair that lasted through Kelly filming “The Country Girl” (1954) (for which she won an Oscar). Kelly wasn’t even director John Ford’s first choice for the role. He instead wanted Gene Tierney, but she turned it down due to emotional problems at the time. Ford didn’t even want Gardner (he wanted Maureen O’Hara), but MGM insisted on Gardner. Ford in turn made his disapproval of Gardner known throughout the production, treating her very badly, so much so that one day Gable walked off the set in protest. It’s a great drama, both onscreen and off.

So whatever your mood may be, I hope these suggestions satisfy your taste buds. And if you have a cold too, this is a great way to rest up and heal. Have a great time, everyone! Be back Monday with another favorite.

(Post-tidbit: The producers of “Soylent Green” decided to change the title from the book’s title Make Room! Make Room! thinking that the public might get it confused with Danny Thomas’ show “Make Room for Daddy.”)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Sting: An Absolute Favorite, Hands Down

I had already planned on writing about “The Sting” (1973) yesterday, but as I caught back up with normal life after the Malibu Triathlon this past weekend, I ran out of time. I now see it was meant to be because now I can include a tribute to a great actor, Harold Gould, who passed away over the weekend. Mr. Gould, this is now for you!

“The Sting” is, of course, the wonderful and fun film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their second and only other film together after “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969), along with director George Roy Hill again as well. It tells the tale of two con artists in 1930s Chicago who decided to pull the ultimate con of revenge after their friend is killed (played by Robert Earl Jones, the great James Earl Jones’ father). Robert Shaw plays the marked sucker, and a cavalcade of amazing character actors support the superstars, like Gould, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, and Eileen Brennan. The now-classic movie went on to earn 10 Academy Award nominations, winning 7 of them, for Best Original Writing, Best Director, and Best Picture, to name a few.

Screenwriter David S. Ward (writer and director of the “Major League” films, “King Ralph,” and co-writer of “Sleepless in Seattle”) came up with the idea of a film about grifters while he was researching for another film, “Steelyard Blues” (also 1973). As he was reading about pickpockets and con artists, he became intrigued by these men who basically used a person’s own greed against himself. He came across the story of real-life con artists and brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff and used many of their exploits to create the big scam set forth in the film. Incidentally, Paul Newman’s character is named Henry Gondorff, to honor those men, who were still grifting well into their 60s. Other character names were also taken from real-life crooks, like JJ Singleton (Walston), Kid Twist (Gould) and Eddie Niles (John Heffernan).

Along with producers Julia and Michael Phillips and Tony Bill, the screenplay was sent to Robert Redford to star. He liked the script a lot, but at first Ward was attached to make his directorial debut with “The Sting” as well, and Redford didn’t feel the first timer had the experience needed to handle the complicated storyline. So he turned down the role, which then went to Jack Nicholson (who also turned it down). However, Hill accidentally saw the script one day and decided he wanted to film it. He called up Redford, and with Hill attached, Redford said yes right away.

Hill then sent the script to Newman after Newman heard what the two were up to. See, Hill asked if he could rent Newman’s Beverly Hills house for a while (the same house he had rented while the three were making “Butch Cassidy”). When Newman asked why, Hill said he was filming “The Sting” with Redford. Newman responded with “Really? Anything in it for me?” Hill told him about the role of Gondorff, yet at that time it was a much smaller, much sloppier, more boozy part. (The actor Hill had in mind for Gondorff at the time was Peter Boyle.) But Newman told him to send over the script anyway, and when Newman returned later saying he was interested in the role, Hill had the role added to and tweaked for Newman’s personal style, knowing the three – Redford, Newman, and Hill – would be moneymakers. And he was so right. “The Sting” earned over $160 million at the box office.

And who could imagine this movie with another group? Newman’s and Redford’s chemistry was something audiences had been waiting to see again since “Butch Cassidy” and still longed for up until Newman’s death in 2008. Ward’s original screenplay was much darker than the final film too. It was Hill’s idea to make it more lighthearted, playing on the comedy and adding the ragtime music of Scott Joplin (which was actually popular 30 years before the film is set). And Hill’s homage to the gangster films of the past with the old-school title cards for each chapter of the movie and the wipes to change from scene to scene all created a feeling of escapism that audiences of the early 70s had been missing after dealing with the Vietnam War and Watergate and such.

Don’t pass up the supporting cast though. Robert Shaw gives one the best performances of his career as crime boss Lonnegan, the mark. However, the limp he gave his part was not just a trick. He hurt his knee right before filming began and had to wear a brace for much of the production (all hidden under his costumes done by the amazing Edith Head, who won another Oscar for this). And, of course, let us not forget Harold Gould, aka Kid Twist. You may recognize Gould more from his work on television, like “The Mary Tyler Show,” “Rhoda,” and “The Golden Girls.” I think it was “Golden Girls” where I first noticed Gould, playing Betty White’s love interest Miles. It was fun discovering he was in “The Sting” as well when I first saw it. You were a great talent, Mr. Gould, and you will be missed.

So, get out your gloves, practice your pick pocketing…wait, just watch “The Sting.” If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to see it soon. It’s a classic that shouldn’t be missed by anyone. Have a great week, everyone! Be back Friday with your weekend suggestions.

(Post-tidbit: That actually isn’t Paul Newman doing the slight-of-hand card tricks on the train! It’s technical advisor John Scarne, and with a very clever, invisible cut, the shot switches from Scarne’s to Newman’s own hands in time for the camera to pan up to Newman’s face.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Postcards from the Edge: Mommy Issues

I know I have a wide variety of favorites, from classic musicals (like "The Sound of Music") to raunchy comedies (like "Animal House") to action flicks (like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid").  But I must admit...I am truly girly in my main taste.  Having spent my weekend watching movies like "Waitress," "Now, Voyager," and "Passion Fish," I could think of only one type of film to write about today - the chick flick.  So, I hope you enjoy delving into one of my favorite chickie tales, "Postcards from the Edge" (1990).

And why wouldn't I love it, since it's all about Hollywood, and involves not one but four actresses that I absolutely love!  Based on the 1987 semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher (actress #1), "Postcards" stars the great Meryl Streep (actress #2) and the wonderful Shirley MacLaine (actress #3), a winner already with just that fact.  The movie is the story of an actress (Streep) who, after getting out of rehab, tries to put her life back together, and deal with her eccentric actress mother (MacLaine) at the same time.  Fisher adapted her book to the screen herself with the help of director Mike Nichols.  Her book focuses more on various obsessions in life, from drugs to love to fame.  Nichols and Fisher bounced around a lot of the book's storylines before finally settling on the mother-daughter relationship (which is barely a bit in the novel).  Because of this, the film got a lot of press as being a true representation of Fisher and her relationship with her real-life actress mother Debbie Reynolds (actress #4).  However, Fisher stated in the DVD commentary, "I wrote about a mother actress and a daughter actress. I'm not shocked that people think it's about me and my mother. It's easier for them to think I have no imagination for language, just a tape recorder with endless batteries."  Fisher does state that many of the little mannerisms of the film's mother and daughter relationship are very similar.  Reynolds actually petitioned to play the role of Doris, the mother, but Nichols already had MacLaine in mind.

It's hard not to make the comparisons between the real and the fake with this film though.  Fisher has had a lot of problems in her life with drugs.  And having grown up in such a public showbiz family, much of her life is already so well-known to us.  Almost from birth, her life and family have been the subject of the tabloids.  That's when her father, singer Eddie Fisher, cheated on and eventually left her mother, America's sweetheart, for Elizabeth Taylor.  As Fisher said in her autobiography Wishful Drinking, they were the Brangelina and Jennifer Aniston of the 50s.  From there, her life was what most of us would call surreal (but to her was just her life). 

She grew up around the movies and made her film debut in "Shampoo" (1975).  Then came "Star Wars" (1977).  Taking on the role of Princess Leia at just 21 years old was an experience no one could have seen coming.  Instantly, she became a pop culture icon beyond anyone's imagination, through sequels, merchandising, etc.  This didn't necessarily start the drugs, but it didn't help.  Failed relationships (including a marriage to singer Paul Simon), mental problems, and a couple of stints in rehab followed.  It was during that first rehab stay that she started writing the novel "Postcards from the Edge."  It's mainly a collection of monologues poking fun at the funny parts in serious situations of life.  She had sent the novel to Nichols just for performance sake, thinking some of her monologues could be used.  Nichols called her back to say he wanted to make the book into a film instead.  He then asked Fisher to write the screenplay for it, something she had never done before.  It was a struggle the first time, but since then, she has become an accomplished writer and script doctor herself, helping out with scripts like "Sister Act" (1992) and "The Wedding Singer" (1998). 

Fisher said that when she finally finished the "Postcards" screenplay and sent it out to find a cast, she was in shock when Meryl Streep accepted the part based on her.  She was in awe of her talent throughout the filming.  However, Fisher did have to coach Streep on one aspect of her life - being high, something Streep had never been.  Streep picked up on some of Fisher's little habits though, like fidgeting with her fingers and such, while Fisher visited the set every day.  Streep's mother later told Fisher one time that "Postcards" was the closest Meryl had ever come to playing herself.  Streep also sang all her own songs, choosing "You Don't Know Me" to sing during the party scene herself.  As for Shirley MacLaine's song right after, "I'm Still Here," Nichols got songwriter Stephen Sondheim to write special lyrics just for MacLaine and this film.  (Debbie Reynolds has since added that version to her act.) 

So, if you're in the mood for a good chick flick, or just some great acting and writing, check out "Postcards from the Edge."  It currently can be watched instantly on Netflix or here.  I'm off to swim in my first triathlon this weekend, so I'll be back Monday with another great film to share.  Have a wonderful week, everyone!

(Post-tidbit:  Though they never appeared together on screen in "Postcards," Shirley MacLaine and Annette Benning would get to know it each other well only a couple of years later when Benning married MacLaine's brother, Warren Beatty.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

For the Weekend: Hulu Your Holiday

Yes!  Three-day weekend!  Love these type weekends!  Do you have huge plans for your days off, or are you like most people I know and just staying home to relax?  If you going with the second option, then get out your computers and take advantage of this weekend.  They have added some great films recently, and below are a few recommendations that you shouldn't miss.

First up - "Wonder Boys" from 2000.  It's a great film starring Michael Douglas (to who I hope we are all sending out our well-wishes), Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr, Tobey MacGuire, and Katie Holmes.  Filmed entirely in sequence in and around Pittsburgh, it tells the tale of a college professor whose life seems to be falling apart all at once during a weekend writing festival at the college.  Adapted by Steve Kloves from Michael Chabon's 1995 novel of the same name and directed by Curtis Hanson (whose previous film was "L.A. Confidential"), it's a wonderful story that a lot of people missed in the theaters.  Unfortunately, the marketing campaign for its February 2000 release by Paramount Studios was no done well, and so the film did poorly at the box office.  The studio quickly pulled it from the theaters, but Hanson managed somehow to convince the studio to re-release it in November 2000, closer to Oscar season.  The marketing focused that time on the entire cast instead of just Douglas.  Even though it still didn't do well the second time around, "Wonder Boys" did garner four Golden Globe nominations and three Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Original Song ("Things Have Changed" by Bob Dylan) in both.  You can catch this on both Hulu and Netflix right now.

Next, hop back in time to the 60s with Oliver Stone's biopic "The Doors" (1991). The film focuses on Jim Morrison, the leader singer of the famous band, and stars Val Kilmer as the infamous rocker.  To prepare for the film, Kilmer spent almost the entire year leading up to the production living as Morrison, like wearing his clothes and visiting his old haunts.  He even memorized all the lyrics to Morrison's songs just for the audition.  The film took a long time to get to this stage in production and during that time, many other mainstream actors were considered for the role of Morrison, including Tom Cruise, Richard Gere, Johnny Depp, and John Travolta.  When Travolta was the favorite, the remaining members of The Doors will still all involved in the film.  They all liked Travolta so much that they considered going on a reunion tour with Travolta as lead singer.  They eventually scrapped the idea because they all felt Travolta was too nice a guy to stand in for Morrison.  The remaining band members also eventually left the film production, dissatisfied with the way their history was being portrayed.  You can watch "The Doors" on Hulu until the end of this month, so don't miss out.

Finally, don't miss out on "The Professional" (1994).  Also known as "Léon" in the international world, the movie stars Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and a very young Natalie Portman in her feature film debut.  It's the story of a young girl (Portman) who is taken in by a professional hit man (Reno) after her entire family is murdered by a corrupt cop (Oldman).  Written and directed by Luc Besson, this was actually just a filler project for him while pre-production for "The Fifth Element" (1997) dragged on.  He managed to write the script in 30 days and film it in 90, in both Paris (for some interior shots) and New York.  Now, Portman originally wasn't a favorite for the role of Matilda because the casting director thought she was just too young (only 11 years old at the time).  But after she came back and performed the scene where she talks about her little brother, Besson loved the depth she was able to get to and hired her.  Her parents had some reservations about the script though.  Not the violence and cursing necessarily, but the smoking.  They then stuck a deal, stating that there would only be five scenes of Portman smoking, and you would never see her inhale or exhale, and she would have to quit halfway through the film.  And the followed that to a T.  "The Professional" (the American version, not the international one) is available on Hulu until November 1.

So I hope you all have a wonderful, long weekend.  Enjoy the outdoors some, but don't forget to explore the fun stuff you can find online too, especially at  Until the next favorite film of mine.  Later, gators!

(Post-tidbit:  Luc Besson originally came up with the story idea for "The Professional" after thinking more about Jean Reno's character in his 1990 film "La Femme Nikita."  Reno played a "cleaner" named Victor.)