Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Artist - Everything we go to the movies for!

I finally got to see The Artist last night and today I still have a warm fuzzy feeling every time I think about it.  I LOVED this movie!  As pure shines homage to all the old Hollywood movies our parents loved and some we sharpened our own teeth on.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I grew up in love with movies.  Movies were a portal to another world where we could be anything we wanted to be and where falling in love with a handsome stranger was as close as your nearest movie theater.  For those of us with wild imaginations and passionate temperaments couched behind shy exteriors,  movies were simply... our magic!

What "The Artist" does or did for me, was take me back to those simpler more innocent times where we did believe in "ever after" and that it really was possible that the dividing line between rain and sunshine was a matter of inches.

I revisited the little girl clothed in a hand-me-down full dress, tap shoes (probably from The Goodwill Store),  who danced in puddles, twirling her umbrella and belting out "I'm singing in the rain...." on her way home from school.   It also made me realize that some things never change because I still walk around with some "song" in my head and when it rains and I hold an umbrella, I still want to be Gene Kelly....or a female version of him...anyway...and break out in a dance. That little girl is still very much alive and I think she is the one who keeps me young on the outside...and last night,  watching the movie, I would have given anything to be "Peppy" Miller and dance the way she light on her feet and so absolutely adorable as she batted her eyes at the equally adorable George Valentin.

I saw the movie with two friends, the male liked it the female was so-so about it and I guess I couldn't believe that they didn't "love" it like I did.  Didn't relate to it, I guess.

The performances in the movie were so good!   Talk about communicating with your eyes, your smiles, your body....   I fell in love with Jean Dujardin's crooked smile and Berenice Bejo's expressive eyes.  John Goodman was almost a Harvey Weinstein kind of guy and he was terrific in the role as the Studio Boss, as was James Cromwell in the role as the faithful driver.  And who could forget Uggie the dog as hero and faithful companion to Dujardin's Valentin, as his prospects dim with the coming of the talkies.

Of course, if you are a movie junkie, you will recognize some of the music, particularly the Edward Herrmann score for Vertigo that plays towards the end of the movie and for which Kim Novak said she felt was a "rape" of something that was created for her.   While hearing it does take you out of the movie momentarily, you immediately jump back in because it works so well in the scenes and situation and it is so lovely and intended to be an homage to the late great Herrmann's work.

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is a big winner and whether it wins the Oscar or is tops in my book.   Harvey Weinstein sure knows how to pick them!

I unreservedly give this movie a thumbs up or five stars...or whatever one gives a movie...because it enchanted me and I am still carrying that fuzzy feeling around and tuning in to Turner Classic Movies to see what other nostalgic movie I can find.

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Meryl Streep's Iron Lady ...

...blew me away.  What a fantastic performance by one of my favorite actresses.

I thought Viola Davis was wonderful and deserved the Oscar for her performance in The Help, but that was before I saw Iron Lady last night.  The lovely Viola is a Streep fan and will forgive the demotion to second place.

The movie was intense, sad and quiet good.  As the older Margaret Thatcher, the actress was mesmerizing.  The ravages of age were sadly poignant, really.   The problem with Streep is that you forget how good she is until you see her again and then you realize that she makes it look so easy you also forget she isn't the person she is portraying.   I honestly think this is one of her best performances.

Hats off to the make up crew who worked on the film.  They are to be commended for their excellence in aging the characters, quite unlike those that did J. Edger, where some of the aging make-up was over the top.  Granted Streep and Broadbent are already older, but even the dentures she wore looked authentic.

If you are a fan of Streep, go see the movie.  I thought it was excellent and though I disagreed with a lot of Thatcher's politics, she was a tough old gal, but more so, I think, because she had to prove that she had as big, if not bigger, balls then the men around her in the political arena.  That that proving might have been detrimental to her in the long run is an interesting question. Strangely enough, her spouse was a more mild mannered type, who cheered her on most of the time and they seemed to get along famously.

I was pleasantly surprise how much I enjoyed the movie, though many find fault with the story. This was "one" view of MT, shown through the vulnerability in her later years.  I am sure there is a wealth of material for a few more stories, but this view didn't please everyone.  There are many who feel it is a disrespect to show her thus because she is still alive.  Despite that, I thought it was an even handed attempt to show the woman behind the iron.

I originally set out to see The Artist but didn't get there in time for the performance, so we opted for The Iron Lady.   I'm so glad we did.

The supporting performances, especially Jim Broadbent, were very good.  Alexandra Roach, the actress who played the young Thatcher, was also very credible in the role.

If she doesn't win the Academy Award this year, I will be very disappointed.  For me she was "that" good.

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Return of Downton Abbey

One of the good things about the new year is the return of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic starting tomorrow, January 8th. on PBS.   It was one of my favorite shows last year and I'm glad to see it is back for a second season and glad to hear it's been signed on for a third.

Between all the big budget movies with their 3D and their "superheroes, " extraterrestrials,  zombies and vampires and reality TV,  the world is ready for some more some adult drama and the backstairs intrigue between the classes of the venerable Masterpiece upstairs-downstairs variety.   Although this has been a good year for films in terms of their quality scattered among the more silly fare like Transformers and Green Lanterns that appeal to the younger male audience, it is still nice to welcome back the well made and well acted stalwarts that make one look forward to watching the tube again.

Julian Fellowes has done a crackerjack job as writer and creator of Downton Abbey.  It still amazes me that the charming actor who played the often pompous, but unintentionally humorous and kind hearted Kilwillie,  best friend and neighbor of Hector McDonald, Laird of Glenbogle on Monarch of the Glen, is the same fellow who has written so many period favorites such as Gosford Park and Young Vicitoria, as well as the screenplays for Vanity Fair and The Tourist.

Last year I watched all six seasons of Monarch of the Glen in the evenings while I did my treadmill.   It become something I looked forward to every night, as I grew more fond of the quirky inhabitants of the fictitious Glenbogle Estate in the Scottish Highlands and some nights would find me sitting through two episodes, eagerly awaiting my next netflix envelope every few days to retreat to another world and spend time with what seemed like some old friends.

Our friends across the pond have a knack for writing intelligent and entertaining drama and they are not afraid of dialogue and don't pander to the lowest common denominator as some moviemakers in the states sometimes do.

I recently had a "professional" critique a script.   I actually paid someone to  tell me it was good and then proceed to tear into it in the most brutal way, even telling me I should change my villain in the piece.  One of my favorite critiques though was him saying that I needed to "dumb" it down for American audiences and asking me if I thought I was writing for Masterpiece Theater because I dared to use the word "supplant" in the context of "supplanting someone in a person's affections."   The character who spoke the words was an artist and an educated and literate person so why would he not use such a word?

Needless to say, I found this one critique a  huge compliment rather than a put down of my skills.

So Sunday night will find me tuning in to Downton Abbey.

Even though I have a very eclectic taste in films, if you took a peek at my Netflix queue  you would find a lot of old Masterpiece Theater and BBC dramas scattered throughout.  I find myself looking forward to those particular ones and lately find they are the only ones that rarely disappoint.

And nary a car chase or demolition derby in the bunch!  Hallelujah!

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Lovely Late Evening with Jane Monheit

Friday night I finally made it to Catalina Bar and Grill to see Jane Monheit.   After picking up some dinner and a bottle of wine from Joan's On Third and a few goodies for New Year's eve I put on ice in the cooler in the back of my car, I headed over to a friend's apartment where we caught up on the last few weeks of our lives over a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, spicy snap peas and several dips and crostini.  After a few glasses of wine we headed down Sunset for the 10:00 show.

I've been a fan of Monheit for about 10 years and always told myself I was going to catch one of her shows and Friday night she didn't disappoint.  She has a lovely voice and backed up by a pianist, a bass and her husband on the drums, she put on a very entertaining show.  She covers a lot of the old standards from some of my favorite composers, but the killer for me was when she sang "Over the Rainbow."   She sings a very slow and melancholy version that breaks your heart to hear.  It did me in the first time I heard her sing it on one of her first CD's and her  version of it is what made me a fan those many years ago.

Several years ago, when my sister A's health started deteriorating, whenever I had to take her to the doctor or somewhere in the car, she would sit in the passenger side.   I would fasten her seatbelt and hold her hand because she had developed a fear of riding in the car.  Anyone who had known A in her prime would know she loved speed.  When she was in my car and I would drive fast or go down a hill, she would smile and show her pleasure by shouting out "wheeeee."   Now, with the advancing Alzheimer's, any motion or sudden moves terrified her and that joyous "wheeeee" had turned to fearful whimpers.  The one thing that would calm her down was me putting on the CD and skipping to Monheit singing "Over the Rainbow."   She and I softly sang it together with Monheit while I drove.   She felt the message of that song on a deep level and the tears would roll down her cheeks.

Well A can no longer form words.  She looks at me and tries, but they don't come out.  She's locked in her own world and only music brings her out a little and what's left of her long term memory registers a sad kind of recognition.  In the car, when I would play it, I knew she was thinking that she had always been trapped in her "borderline Down's syndrome"  mind and body and that she was never going to fly over the rainbow like she dreamed doing.  The thing was that she knew I knew it...even though I would always tell her that she and I would see the world together.  She well understood she had to live with mom.  She was mom's constant companion after Dad died and the two had never separated.  But to A, I was her salvation, her ticket to the world she might have lived had she not had her handicap.   She wanted to live with me and live my life.

So it was so bittersweet, that lovely version, sung Friday night, with the same melancholy cadence I remembered...and the memories it evoked for me of my sister through the progression of her illness broke my heart all over again.   We all want to fly away from our troubles and over the rainbow is where the dreamers go.

I talked to Ms. Monheit after the show.  I didn't take a photograph or ask for an autograph (although I did buy a new CD).   I just had to share that little thing with her and she genuinly seemed pleased I did.   I only took a small moment, but it meant so much to her that her voice had reached out and really touched both my sister and myself.

Music is a universal language and at its best it enriches us and helps us make indelible little moments special.   Music allows us to relive those moments long after they are gone.  We fall in love to music, we remember our losses over music, we celebrate life through music and each song creates a feeling within us that takes us to a certain place or a certain person.  Music makes us dance with joy at the celebration of being alive and still able to go with the "vibrations" that make us feel alive!

Those in the arts can sometimes be annoyed by cloying fans, but Monheit's sincerity was palpable when she spoke with me and I had a "need" to let her know that she had shared something very personal with both of us in the form of her voice and her interpretation of the song.

Monheit sings in a very sensual and personal manner.  She is able to interpret a song as she "feels" it and when you see her in person you "get" why it comes across in the the audio alone.  That is the best thing I can say about a singer.   Good voices are sometimes a dime a dozen and it seems like everyone "screams" a lot these days to reach the higher octaves.  She has lovely control, but it is her nuance and her own style with the songs that make them special.

If you haven't heard of her, look her up.  If you get to see her, she's a treat.   Her musicians are right there with her on the journey she takes.   I've put the new CD in my rotation of five in the car. I will download it to my iPod.  I've got so much to download into my *iPod, but for now I will enjoy her singing everytime I get in my car.   And every time I hear that particular song, those bittersweet moments I shared with my sister A when we both sang along with Jane Monheit will always live in my heart.

Thanks Jane!

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate

*There is an especially lovely song on the new CD that has become an instant favorite because it touches me.   Below is a link to the very evocative "piano only" duet with Peter Eldridge"It's Only Smoke."

Over the Rainbow