Sunday, June 2, 2013
Thursday, May 30, 2013
In HARD EIGHT, everything is hard: the characters, the dialogue, the lessons learned, and the string of violent acts that lead to young man's rebirth and an old hood's atonement. A mysterious black-suited man (Philip Baker Hall) walks into a diner and commits a seemingly random act of kindess for a down-and-out young man (John C. Reilly) that starts with a cigarette and cup of coffee and turns out to be a priceless education on how to win in Vegas and in life. Along the way we learn the secret of what binds the two men. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this film is about mentoring, love, casino life and sweet revenge. Watch for a brief but absolutely unforgettable cameo by Philip Seymour Hoffman (another of Anderson's regulars) as a loud-mouthed high roller. (Trivia note: Philip Baker Hall played the trench-coated, humorously fascistic library cop Bookman in a Seinfeld episode, and a fictionally suicidal Richard Nixon in Robert Altman's riveting one-man film SECRET HONOR (1985).
The only woman who appears (very briefly) in THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX is a mirage – but thanks to an action-packed survival-in-the-sand plot, there isn’t much interest in dates – except the dried kind. A planeload of men, piloted by James Stewart, crashes in the Sahara. Chances of survival look pretty slim until one of the passengers, an arrogant young German, announces he's an aircraft designer and can build a smaller plane out of the wreckage. A skeptical Stewart reluctantly agrees to the plan, and then angrily cancels it when he finds out the man actually designs model planes! A war of egos ensues. Does the cobblecraft, dubbed "The Phoenix," eventually rise? You bet your ashes! (Forget the 2004 remake.)
In SERPICO, Al Pacino is the young officer who, to maintain his individuality, splits his passion and energy between bohemian living and good police work. Refusing to take bribes, he is ostracized by his already skeptical fellow officers. Sickened by the extent of police corruption, he goes to his superiors, but when he discovers they are ignoring his charges, he takes the potentially fatal step of breaking the blue wall of silence and going public with his exposé.
Eight years later, Pacino passed on the role of Ciello in PRINCE OF THE CITY, thinking the character too similar to Serpico. Lucky for us Treat Williams got the part of the conflicted New York cop who goes undercover for the feds in order to ferret out police corruption. At first, Ciello recklessly gets off on the danger, believing himself invincible. But as trial dates near and various screws tighten, the guilt-wracked Ciello is forced to give up his partners and friends, and the house of cards comes tumbling down. Danny Ciello is arguably the best role of Williams’ career, just as Frank Serpico was one of Pacino’s. Must-see performances, both.
In the three years since his FBI agent-wife's murder in a botched anti-terrorist operation, a college history professor (Jeff Bridges) has grown increasingly obsessed with subversive groups. His bitterness and paranoia momentarily ease when new neighbors (Jim Robbins, Joan Cusack) befriend him and his young son. But soon, he begins to suspect they really are terrorists and begins a pursuit for the truth that leads to a horrific revelation you won't see coming. Too-timely a topic, unfortunately.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Teresa Wright was a natural and lovely talent upon whom I've had a crush my entire life. She was discovered for films by Samuel Goldwyn and distinguished herself early on in high-caliber, Oscar-worthy form -- the only performer ever to be nominated for Oscars for her first three films.
Born Muriel Teresa Wright in the Harlem district of New York City on October 27, 1918, her parents divorced when she was quite young and she lived with various relatives in New York and New Jersey. An uncle of hers was a stage actor. She attended the exclusive Rosehaven School in Tenafly, New Jersey. The acting bug revealed itself when she saw the legendary Helen Hayes perform in a production of "Victoria Regina." After performing in school plays and graduating from Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, she made the decision to pursue acting professionally.
Apprenticing at the Wharf Theatre in Provincetown, Massachusetts during the summers of 1937 and 1938 in such plays as "The Vinegar Tree" and "Susan and God", she moved to New York and changed her name to Teresa after she discovered there was already a Muriel Wright in Actors Equity. Her first New York play was Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" wherein she played a small part but also understudied the lead ingénue role of Emily. She eventually replaced Martha Scott in the lead after the actress was escorted to Hollywood to make pictures and recreate the Emily role on film. It was during her year-long run in "Life with Father" that Teresa was seen by Goldwyn talent scouts, was tested, and ultimately won the coveted role of Alexandra in the film The Little Foxes (1941). She also accepted an MGM starlet contract on the condition that she not be forced to endure cheesecake publicity or photos for any type of promotion and could return to the theater at least once a year. Oscar-nominated for her work alongside fellow cast members Bette Davis (as calculating mother Regina) and Patricia Collinge (recreating her scene-stealing Broadway role as the flighty, dipsomaniac Aunt Birdie), Teresa's star rose even higher with her next pictures.
Playing the good-hearted roles of the granddaughter in the war-era tearjerker Mrs. Miniver (1942) and baseball icon Lou Gehrig's altruistic wife in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) opposite Gary Cooper, the pretty newcomer won both "Best Supporting Actress" and "Best Actress" nods respectively in the same year, ultimately taking home the supporting trophy. Teresa's fourth huge picture in a row was Alfred Hitchcock's psychological thriller Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and she even received top-billing over established star Joseph Cotten who played a murdering uncle to her suspecting niece. Wed to screenwriter Niven Busch in 1942, she had a slip with her fifth picture Casanova Brown (1944) but bounced right back as part of the ensemble cast in the "Best Picture" of the year The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) portraying the assuaging daughter of Fredric March and Myrna Loy who falls in love with damaged soldier-turned-civilian Dana Andrews.
With that film, however, her MGM contract ended. Remarkably, she made only one movie for the studio (Mrs. Miniver) during all that time. The rest were all loanouts. As a freelancing agent, the quality of her films began to dramatically decline. Pictures such as Enchantment (1948), Something to Live For (1952), California Conquest (1952), Count the Hours (1953), Track of the Cat (1954) and Escapade in Japan (1957) pretty much came and went. For her screenwriter husband she appeared in the above-average western thriller Pursued (1947) and crime drama The Capture (1950). Her most inspired films of that post-war era were The Men (1950) opposite film newcomer Marlon Brando and the low-budgeted but intriguing The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956) which chronicled the fascinating story of an American housewife who claimed she lived a previous life.
The "Golden Age" of TV was her salvation during these lean film years in which she appeared in fine form in a number of dramatic showcases. She recreated for TV the perennial holiday classic "The 20th Century-Fox Hour: The Miracle on 34th Street (#1.6)" (1955) in which she played the Maureen O'Hara role opposite Macdonald Carey and Thomas Mitchell. Divorced from Busch, the father of her two children, in 1952, Teresa made a concentrated effort to return to the stage and found consistency in such plays as "Salt of the Earth" (1952), "Bell, Book and Candle" (1953), "The Country Girl" (1953), "The Heiress" (1954), "The Rainmaker" (1955) and "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" (1957) opposite Pat Hingle, in which she made a successful Broadway return. Marrying renowned playwright Robert Anderson in 1959, stage and TV continued to be her primary focuses, notably appearing under the theater lights in her husband's emotive drama "I Never Sang for My Father" in 1968. The couple lived on a farm in upstate New York until their divorce in 1978.
By this time a mature actress now in her 50s, challenging stage work came in the form of "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds", "Long Day's Journey Into Night", "Morning's at Seven" and "Ah, Wilderness!" Teresa also graced the stage alongside George C. Scott's Willy Loman (as wife Linda) in an acclaimed presentation of "Death of a Salesman" in 1975, played a small but pivotal role in Somewhere in Time in 1980, and then and appeared opposite Scott again in her very last play, "On Borrowed Time" (1991). In her final film, in 1997, she played the touching role of an elderly landlady opposite Matt Damon in The Rainmaker.
Teresa passed away of a heart attack in 2005. She was 87.