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Demme (RIP) and His Players

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Thursday
Aug202015

Highest Paid Actresses, 2015 Edition

Forbes annual Highest Paid Actress list arrived this morning. It tracks income from films and merchandising and endorsement deals and so on and prints the (estimated conjecture) total before management fees and taxes are removed. The endorsements is why household name celebrities, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts, stay on the list for years and years after their peak bankable actressing. Here's the list if you don't want to have to click through the 19 page gallery. But you will have to click through 19 pages if you want to know just how each of these women is making so much bank.

The list with our commentary after the jump

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Aug202015

The Riot Club: or, a brief history of posh British cinema

David takes a look at the British cultural legacy of poshness as The Riot Club now out on DVD...

Before The Riot Club was a movie, it was a West End play called Posh. Laura Wade’s simple, cutting title gets right to the heart of the social crisis at the centre of her work, which presents a fictionalised version of Oxford’s infamous Bullingdon Club, whose members have included both the current British Prime Minister and Mayor of London. While the traumatic events of the play and film are invented, the social privilege they demonstrate is a British legacy that has lingered throughout history. It continues to be a talking point today, with British soap opera actor Danny Dyer memorably taking pot shots at ‘posh boy’ Benedict Cumberbatch and the social elitism of the British cultural industries. (Dyer’s complaints of elitism are perhaps reflected in some of The Riot Club’s casting – Max Irons (son of Jeremy) and Freddie Fox (son of Edward) both come from British acting dynasties.)

Britain’s exports and image abroad have been shaped by the likes of Merchant Ivory, Jane Austen and Downton Abbey as one steeped in this kind of privilege and elitism. Occasionally British films of a different kind will have a big enough cultural impact to surface in the timeline of world cinema, with the kitchen-sink dramas of the late 1950s and ‘60s perhaps the most notable instance. But it is the posh boys that have really dominated British cinema’s worldwide reputation, from Leslie Howard (the first cinematic Henry Higgins) through Hugh Grant to the current crop led by Eddie Redmayne and Cumberbatch. 

But why is this model of Britishness so favoured internationally? [More...]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Aug202015

Beasts of No Nation Character Posters

Another day, another fall movie releases a poster. Murtada here with the details. 

Following the Beasts of No Nation trailer, the character posters for the African war drama have arrived. The trailer told us a lot about the film by introducing its two main characters - played by Idris Elba and newcomer Abraham Atta - and the hypnotic dynamic between them in one brief scene. The striking but simple posters continue the efficient storytelling and with just a few pictures and words tell us all we need to know. For now...

 

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Aug192015

Hailee Steinfeld loves herself, okay?

Did you hear that the now 18 year old True Grit and Pitch Perfect 2 star has released a single? With "Love Myself" she becomes the first Oscar nominee to launch a music career since... um... wait, wait, it'll come to me.

Bruce Willis, Brie Larson, and Linday Lohan tried it years ago but they weren't Oscar nominees. Eddie Murphy and Kim Basinger did it briefly in the 80s but that was long before Oscar paid them any mind. Russell Crowe did it before becoming a movie star and kept on doing it. Jamie Foxx started recording years before the musical biopic Oscar win in Ray. Jared Leto abandoned the movies for quite a long time to be a rock star but that was also before Oscar love. Most recently Scarlett Johansson started a recording career but Oscar has yet to notice her. (sigh). Post Oscar Examples will come to me after we get back to our topic.

Anyway...
Hailee has gone for an "I Touch Myself"/"She Bop" style single what with that Self-Service tank in the video for "Love Myself"

 

Hey, you'd turn yourself on, too, if you were Oscar-nominated for your debut film. Do tell us what you think of the video in the comments, won't you? (You may also recall that Hailee was the star of my choice for "best shot" from Taylor Swift's Bad Blood video)

Previous Actors To Launch Music Careers After Their Oscar Nominations
I'd love this to be a comprehensive list but I'm sure I missed someone. Help if you can...

2000s

Minnie Driver's latest album "Ask Me To Dance" Toni Collette . Oscar nominated for The Sixth Sense (1999). Released one album "Beautiful Awkward Pictures" in 2006. You can also hear her great pipes on the Original Broadway Cast Album of Michael John Lachiusa's "Wild Party"
Minnie Driver
. Oscar nominated for Good Will Hunting (1997). Released her debut album "Everything I've Got in My Pocket" in 2004. Beautiful voice. She's since released two more albums.
Juliette Lewis. Oscar nominated for Cape Fear (1991). Juliette and the Licks released their debut album in 2004 with their first hit "You're Speaking My Language" - damn that track was goood. She's since released three more albums. I miss her music. I listened to "Uh Huh" so much in 2010!

1980s

Isabelle Adjani. First Oscar nominated for The Story of Adele H. (1975). After a Cannes win for 2 roles and two Cesars for best actress in the early 80s she released her only album "Pull Marine" in 1983. Supposedly Luc Besson directed the only music video but it doesn't seem to exist on YouTube. *sniffle*

1970s

Bette Davis. Oscared twice over in the 1930s, she continued to rack up nominations through 1962's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.  She's a bit of a black sheep in this list though because she wasn't trying to start a recording career with her only album. She was nearing 70 years of age when producers asked her and she cut the album "Miss Bette Davis" which includes a few movie songs she's already sung onscreen.

1960s

Patty Duke. She won the supporting actress Oscar at 16 for her co-lead role in The Miracle Worker (1962). Afterwords she got her own television show, recorded albums and had two top forty hits. 

1950s

Sal Mineo. First Oscar nominated for Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Released one pop album in 1957 at the heighth of his teen idol fame, from which he even had a top ten single. After that it was all acting again and another nomination for Exodus (1960).

 

Wednesday
Aug192015

HMWYBS: Angels in America (2003)

What follows is a republishing of a piece I'm proud of from our very first season of Hit Me With Your Best Shot (you can see the index of all six seasons here) when I was somehow far more concise with "Best Shot" despite feeling like I was overdoing it. I've added in notes and links for contributions from other Best Shot participants and I'd like to thank Manuel heartily before we begin for his fascinating contextual work on HBO's long history of LGBT films and series this summer and for sharing this week's HBO LGBT episode with us for our redo episode of this Great Work. Read that piece before you read this. Ready? Let's begin...

Tony Kushner's extraordinary two part stage epic Angels in America centers around two overlapping young couples in the mid 80s, struggling married Mormons, pill popping Harper and her closeted husband Joe and the gay couple Louis and Prior they become connected spiritually (Harper befriends Prior... in her dreams) and physically (Joe becomes Louis's other lover). But it's also about politics, immigration, religion, identity, and evolution and encompasses multiple other characters from Louis's outspoken gay friend Belize, to Joe's mother, to the evil lawyer Roy Cohn, the dead Communist Ethel Rosenberg, and a frequently orgasmic Angel who descends on many of the players. This masterpiece was adapted for the screen in 2003 by Oscar winner Mike Nichols. Along its journey it won 7 Tonys, The Pulitzer, and later 5 Golden Globes and 11 Emmys and here's the thing: it deserved every single prize. If you haven't seen it drop everything (seriously everything) because it is unmissable. I've seen it performed on stage three times in three different states with wildly different budgets and casts and seen the miniseries a few times too... and every single time it's a fascinating prismatic living thing, like it will always be teaching you, entertaining you, and provoking you.

Rather than limit myself to one shot I'm picking one from each of its chapter. This I can manage!

Chapter 1 "Bad News"

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Aug192015

Actresses of Color Who Deserve Better Careers

Gugu Mbatha-Raw had a GREAT 2014. Will the roles be there for her? (Photo by Paola Kudaki for Elle) Here's a topic always worth discussing. Actresses of Color who deserve better careers. I made a top ten on this topic many moons ago -- 2007 to be exact over at the old blog which went like so: Anika Noni Rose, Regina King, Naomie Harris, Hazelle Goodman, April Grace, Tonya Pinkins, Audra McDonald, Gabrielle Union, and the list was topped by Viola Davis and Kerry Washington. The past eight years were very very kind to about three of them -- this was before Viola's Oscar nominations and before Scandal for Kerry and before Audra's record breaking 5th and 6th Tony Awards), but others were ignored or their careers stayed roughly the same. Do people even know who Hazelle Goodman is anymore? It will always mystify that April Grace proved she could hold her own, charisma wise, with Tom F'ing Cruise at his most intense in a stand-off in Magnolia and not come out of it with a giant career. Hollyweird.

But the subject is always worth revisiting since Hollywood changes slowly. And, to be honest, it's even a topic that applies to white and blond actresses because Hollywood is not exactly a meritocracy. Make the wrong move here, miss an opportunity there, or don't have the right agent and all the talent in the world might not make for a big career. But back to the subject of actresses of color. Remember when Lupita was in discussions for Southpaw and eventually moved on (the part went to Naomie Harris)? Having seen the picture I think we can all now agree that there's zero reason on earth, plot-wise / character-wise / talent-wise why the juicier wife part couldn't have gone to Lupita (or Naomie) instead of to Rachel McAdams. Even when Hollywood discovers someone as exciting as Lupita they don't come up with opportunities for them, opportunities that are all around if you think about it; Maybe you've noticed that the industry makes multiple HUNDREDS of movies a year.

The topic is on my mind again because Dell on Movies made a list and A Fistful of Films countered with another. Naturally, I don't agree on all of the choices. I think Queen Latifah, for example, often phones it in. Maybe subconsciously she knows that her substantial charisma will smooth over the blank spaces? But there are some obvious YES situations here too: Q'orianka Kilcher (The New World), Adepero Oduye (Pariah), and Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere). I actually wonder if their names aren't part of the problem. Hear me out: I don't mean this in a "too ethnic!" racist kind of way. I've noticed it a lot with white actors, too - especially with stage performers oddly enough. Names are getting SO long and complicated. It seems that "stage names" are a thing of the past but there's something to be said for refashioning your given name towards something that's catchy and easy for the public to remember / obsess over. If it's already catchy like "Lupita Nyong'o" just keep it but if it's hard to remember and difficult to spell why not make it easier for potential fans? Just ask Frances Gumm (who became Judy Garland), Archibald Leach (who became Cary Grant) or Natalie Zacharenko (who became Natalie Wood) and so on. Every once in a while someone new changes their name to something catchier -- did you know that Brie Larson is actually Brianne Sidonie Desaulniers? -- but mostly today's actors are keeping their original names. 

For what it's worth Emayatzy has a series regular role in Amazon's Hand of God starring Ron Perlman (as a businessman who starts speaking in tongues and seeing visions) and Dana Delany as his sharp wife that drops all of its first season episodes in early September. Emayatzy plays Perlman's mistress/prostitute. Pilot reviewed here.

I'm not in the headspace today for a full top ten on this topic but I know it would include Melonie Diaz (such a welcome presence - she always pops), Carmen Ejogo (so gorgeous and talented), Kimberly Elise (just brilliant and so infrequently works in movies), Danielle Brooks (so dependably engaging on Orange is the New Black and I want to see what else she can do), Adriane Lenox (who originated Viola's role on stage in Doubt to a Tony Award), Clauda Kim (Age of Ultron / Marco Polo)... maybe you can help out in the comments with your own? 

Wednesday
Aug192015

HBO’s LGBT History: Angels in America (2003)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at Gus Van Sant Palme d’Or winner, Elephant, which sparked some great conversations about the merits of that one shower scene. I’ll say this: that so many of us had such visceral reactions to his film is in itself worth celebrating. Also, from hate crimes to gender transitions to mass shootings, was HBO ahead of the curve or are we merely being shown how little has changed in this past decade?

This week we tackle Tony Kushner and Mike Nichols’ groundbreaking miniseries, Angels in America. It took Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play close to ten years to make it on screen. Beginning as a Robert Altman two-part TV movie (with rumored roles for Julia Roberts, Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert Downey Jr. and Tim Robbins), later being offered to such varied directors as PJ Hogan, Neil LaBute, Jonathan Demme, and Gus Van Sant himself, HBO eventually stepped in and handed Mike Nichols Kushner’s miniseries script. The rest, as they say, is history. And since this is such a momentous piece of television history, we’re hosting it as a Hit Me With Your Best Shot celebration. (Later tonight, you can see Nathaniel's choices and those from other participants)

First my runner-up:

Orgasm as heavenly combustion. Lesbianism as holy communion. Emma and Meryl. There are so many things to love about this image (I love Hannah Pitt’s commitment to keeping her shoes on, for example), and it’s in a way a companion piece to my all-time favorite moment in the series.

My favorite shot: (and yes, I know it's cliché)

A New York City apartment. Amidst the Reaganite politics of the United States in the late 80s, former drag queen Prior Walter, a recently diagnosed AIDS patient, has been left by his partner Louis and finds himself all alone with fevers, sores, night sweats, visions of ancestral messengers, heavenly echoes of prophecy and the coming of an Angel. So ends “The Messenger” the third episode of the HBO miniseries (ie. the end of Millennium Approaches, the first half of Kushner’s play). By the start of Perestroika, and upon retelling his encounter with the female Angel to his friend Belize, Prior can’t help but remark that: “The sexual politics of this are very confusing.” The scene as written on the page is breathtaking. In Nichols’ hands it’s heavenly.

It’s not just that this shot is beautiful, though it is what with those yellow hues, the gorgeously frayed roof, and Thompson’s pearly white Angel costume. For me, it’s one of the moments where Kushner’s own “pared down” style of Brechtian theatricality, and Nichols’ commitment to naturalism find a perfect balance. This “Gay Fantasia on National Themes” lives and dies in its tonal shifts, being both a gay melodrama (with its breakups, divorces, sex romps) and a feverish day-dream (with its angels, ghosts, sex romps). This one scene, with the Angel announcing that “The Great Work begins” is the apotheosis of both, underscoring both Prior’s loneliness and increasingly loose connection with the world around him after losing Louis, and highlighting the fantastical elements of Kushner’s script which connect the AIDS plague with issues of movement, migration, faith, and humanity. If the human race is to survive, they must stop. Stop moving. Stop wanting. Stop desiring. And perhaps more importantly, stop having sex. The allegory is both blunt and nuanced. By the end of the piece, Prior says he desires more life,

It just... It just... We can’t just stop. We’re not rocks - progress, migration, motion is... modernity. It’s animate, it’s what living things do. We desire. Even if all we desire is stillness, it’s still desire for. Even if we go faster than we should. We can’t wait.

I also love the framing; with its wide angle, it’s almost like we’re watching a stage (bonus: note Prior’s actressexual altar in the corner!) and while Thompson’s angel (a bemused bird-like creature) crashes the scene, you can almost see the wires showing (“and maybe it’s good that they do,” Kushner’s playwright notes point out). It’s not surprising this was used as the main image in the promo materials for the miniseries (it’s even the DVD cover!) as it so embodies the duality that so defines this piece: ethereal and corporeal, the heavenly and the earthly; heck, even the gay and the straight. Yes, the Angel and Prior copulate, but it’s as queer a configuration as one could ask for (“she has eight vaginas” we’re told). Yes, the sexual politics are very confusing. For they have to be. This is a messy, sprawling piece whose ragged edges merely mirror the fragmented world it is trying to depict and, in turn, change.

 Fun Awards Fact: In 2004, Angels in America broke the record for most Emmys awarded to a single program (11 of 21 nominations), a record then held by another landmark work on minority representation: ABC’s 1977 Roots: The Saga of an American Family. That record was later broken again in 2008 by another HBO megahit: Tom Hooper’s John Addams. You’ll take solace in knowing that Hooper himself lost the Emmy to Nichols in 2004 (where the former was nominated for Prime Suspect 6) and to Jay Roach (for Recount) in 2008.

Next week: We pause again on HBO’s television output by looking at three LGBT characters from three of HBO’s most talked-about television shows: The Sopranos, The Wire and Carnivàle (You can stream episodes of each on HBO Go and Amazon Prime). Any fans of these dark dramas?