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Entries in Nashville (12)

Tuesday
Sep022014

A Brief Celebration of Lily Tomlin in "Nashville"

Here's Andrew with one more Lily Tomlin tribute. Yes, yes, we got a little carried away for her 75th what with polls and memorabilia and now this. But that's because there's just so much to love and there's one exciting brand new project on the horizon - Nathaniel R

We can't let the celebration of Lily Tomlin pass without devoting just a few words to her excellent performance Nashville. Or, part of it. There are too many great things to say about Tomlin’s performance but let's zero in on a brief, but essential moment of Linnea Reese’s journey that’s always stuck. It's probably the first moment you think of when you hear the words Nashville and Lily Tomlin… the "I’m Easy” scene.

Nashville is many things, and a musical is one of them. Its Oscar-winning number “I’m Easy” arrives over two hours into the movie. From Carradine’s soft crooning, to the excellent lyrics, to Altman’s brilliant direction – it’s a great, tender moment of irony for the film. The rascal Tom Frank (Keith Carradine) dedicates this number to “someone special” in the audience and sings about how fragile his heart is, when it’s anything but. In performance the actual song becomes secondary to the reactions it evokes. There are three other women watching, in addition to Linnea, who are certain the song is about them, or hope that it could be.

 But even as all the actors are making this scene work it’s Tomlin’s Linnea that is most profound. It is her scene. I saw Nashville for the first time a few years ago and Linnea seemed so contradictory with the image that Lily Tomlin had always evoked, not because it's a dramatic role but because the essence of the performance is its stillness. That's not something easy to play, and often comes off as underacting. Not for Lily in this film, though, and especially not in this scene.

In a recurring shot Linnea sits somewhere near the edge of the frame looking desolate, surrounded by the rest of the audience. It's a wonder how just watching her reaction evokes such strong feelings. She may not be the only woman responding to Tom's "I'm Easy" lies, but even as she remains still there’s an electricity to her. Altman wisely let's the camera be drawn to her.

This gospel singer and mother of two deaf children doesn’t utter a single word and yet when the final note is sung we’ve learned so much. Just look at that face! Every longing desire, every hope, every secret lustful thought climaxes here. That she and Tom will come together some time after is inevitable. It’s a brief bit in the gargantuan excellence that is Nashville's 160 minutes and but a drop in the greatness of the enduring Lily Tomlin, but essential nonetheless.

previous Lily enthusiasms
Rose vs Sadie Big Business 
Memoirs of an Usherette Lily's history of loving the movies 
Jane & Lily reunited for Netflix 

Friday
Jul252014

Truth Tell: Barbara Harris is Underappreciated

A Happy 79th birthday to Barbara Harris. She hasn't acted in such a long time but she was often just wonderful on the screen with unique rhythm, energy and comic ability.

I'm not sure that anything about Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot (Hitch's last feature in 1976) totally works but if you could argue that any of it does it's either the cemetery scene or anything involving Barbara Harris's performance as a con-artist psychic. The movie is frustrating since it feels half formed and its inarguably flabby:  every time you need the editing too tighten it up which would have made everything, including the memorable actors (Karen Black and Bruce Dern are also on hand), pop. It just keeps the scene going.

Barbara Harris's largest claim to fame these days is her Golden Globe nominated work in the original Freaky Friday (1976) wherein she switched bodies with her tomboy daughter Jodie Foster but my favorite Harris performance ever is her role as "Albuquerque" in Robert Altman's masterpiece Nashville (1975)

It don't worry me.
It don't worry me.
You may say that I'm not free. It don't worry me ♫ 

 I'd be okay with the entire 1975 Supporting Actress Oscar lineup just being ladies from Nashville, all told. 

Exit Music. Here's Barbara Harris doing bits from "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," a role she originated on Broadway in 1965 to the tune of a Tony nomination before Barbra Streisand took over in the film version five years later.

 

Sunday
Apr282013

Nashville Film Festival ~ Our Jury Prizes

As some of you know I attended the Nashville Film Festival last week as a juror. I haven't ever truly mastered the How To of reporting from film festivals -- I marvel at the blogs who seem to have time to see five movies a day and socialize with other festivalgoers AND review all of them as if there are 48 hours in each day -- so you're getting my jury notes super late! This time I was on the Narrative Feature Jury which meant 16 movies crammed into less than a week. I tried to see other features outside my slate but my eyes begged for relief after just two (The Spectacular Now and I Am Divine -- more on those later) since I wasn't able to stay very long this year.

Nashville is one of the USA's oldest ongoing film festivals and it doesn't get enough attention in the media. One of the reasons is surely the concurrent Tribeca, a far starrier affair. Still, I'd personally argue that festivals like Nashville are more crucial to the good health of cinema and here's why...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Nov192012

TV: Arrow, Nashville, Revenge, Copper, Homeland

For as much as I've tried to ween myself off of TV, it remains the go to entertainment medium when I'm tired- sick, writer-blocked or basically-broke... add those  things up and that equals a lot of time. I wish I could kill time by listening to music since there's so much good stuff out there that I'm unfamiliar with but music, like the cinema, absorbs all of me. I can't do much else while indulging in it. The only other things I can do while listening to music is exercize and clean.  

Welcome to the Nineties! Jennifer Jason Leigh and Madeleine Stowe are stars again!

So herewith a few thoughts on various shows from the fall season, new and returning... would love to hear if you're watching or feel differently in the comments. More...

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Nov122011

Q&A Special Pt. 2: Briony, Nashville, Early Onset Actressexuality

Back again. So losing track of time lately. Fridays as Mondays. Thursdays as Fridays. When am I? Saturday AM? What? But here's the promised second part of the Q&A column. I loved the James Dean question and the Spice Girl question but I'll have to give them their own post or something later because my brain can't deal with their enormity tonight.

Here are a few more questions I wanted to / could answer. As always, I love to hear your answers to the same questions or your responses to mine in the comments.

MATTHEW: Choose three Oscar-nom'ed/winning actresses from the Aughts whose careers are most in need of redirecting and explain how you would help get them back on track.

I would've said Charlize Theron a year ago but -- yay -- totally back on track these days.

I want to start with Ellen Page. She gets work regularly but Whip It, her last vital role, will soon be three years old and it seems like we should be hearing her name more often in the 'who is up for what part' sweepstakes. I worry that Hollywood doesn't think she's "sexy" -- maybe it's the somewhat butch energy? -- and therefore doesn't consider her for the parts that they keep divvying up between Evan Rachel Wood, Carey Mulligan, Abbie Cornish, and the like. I think she should embrace the androgyny and do something harder-edged with a confrontational or casual sexiness. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo would've been a great move for her. But alas...

Hilary Swank. I know I've been rough on her over the years... but it's not like she's without talent (though her line readings in the New Year's Eve trailer are truly lumber yard ready. Yikes!). I think the extraordinary early success misdirected her career and she ended up playing all these Movie Star roles she wasn't suited for and doing all these genres she's terrible at. She needs to stick with contemporary drama and maybe look for a challenging memorable character in a strong ensemble piece. The only way she's getting a third Oscar nominations is a vivid supporting part.

Mo'Nique. The only problem with her career is that she doesn't work enough. When you can do what she did in Precious you kind of owe it to the world, if you ask me. (You'll notice I didn't even mention the vanishing act that is Joan Allen's career. I can't even talk about that lest I burst into tears.)

Sir Ian His AwesomenessSMG: Who are your favorite real-life gay actors? gay characters?

Y'all have to start narrowing down your questions! Characters? This sounds like a top 100 list waiting to happen so I can't do it in this format. As for gay actors, I have total organic fondness for any public figure brave enough to come out of the closet. People are always saying "oh, it's personal. leave them alone. etcetera" but basic sexual orientation is not a private matter -- sexual preferences in the bedroom, sure, but not orientation. Look around you and you will see evidence of sexual orientation EVERYWHERE. The "stay in the closet if it's what's best for you" is just heteronormative societal pressure and the thing people are always telling actors "don't come out because it'll kill your chance to become an A List movie star like ____" is sick. As if people should lie about their life for their whole lives for the sake of a lottery ticket! That's just the dark side of our capitalistic 'every man for himself' / 'dog-eat-dog' thinking. Notice how each year it gets easier for gay actors and actresses and it's becoming less of an issue. Why? Because people before them were altruistic and brave enough to come out and have opened the doors. The world is a better place post Ellen Degeneres and post Ian McKellen and post everyone-else. We can pretend we all live in bubbles but we don't. Our actions affect other people; we live in a continuum.

Politics aside, some workign gay actors I'm extra fond of in that I usually love their work and always perk up when I see them (no offscreen / offstage kinship required): Lily Tomlin, Sir Ian McKellen, Cheyenne Jackson, Miriam Margolyes, Fiona Shaw, John Benjamin Hickey, Jonathon Groff, Udo Kier (I'm still giggling remembering his bit in Melancholia), and Alan Cumming. That's off the top of my head. 

Lily Tomlin in Nashville's "I'm Easy" Sequence

JOE K: Pick three performances in Nashville which you think are the most impressive that aren't Lily Tomlin and Ronee Blakley.

Nashville! One of the best topics in all of cinema. I'll name my choices and answer a drama/musical question and a first actress crush diary after the jump.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Apr212011

Nashville: Chatting with Sam Jaeger and Sarah Hagan

I'm back in NYC, yo. So let's wrap up Nashville coverage with some odds and ends, starting with two familiar television actors who had movies in the festival, Sarah Hagan and Sam Jaeger.


Sam Jaeger
, you may recognize as "Joel" from Parenthood or series regular stints on short-lived series like Eli Stone and Girls Club. We spoke in the late afternoon on a day when the VIP tent was strangely empty. Without competition for attention (his world premiere was the next evening and he'd just arrived) I yanked him my way, verbally. He was super amiable, funny and made no attempt to escape the conversation. (Ha! See, I always wonder if actors dread the constant need to be "on" while they talk to press, fans, or industry types.) We talked about his directorial feature debut Take Me Home, which is about a down on his luck photographer who ends up on an emotional roadtrip with a stranger in his part time gig as a cab driver. I revealed my surprise to him that when I got to the end of the screener I was surprised to see his name everywhere: writing, directing, producing in addition to acting. (The best thing about festivals for me is seeing films without any buzz, hype or information clouding the experience.) He had a self-deprecating sense of humor and revealed that he figured no one else would star in it with the amount of money he was planning on paying the lead. Heh.

From there we talked about Parenthood and I told him about my skeptical initial reaction to his character: 'oh i know exactly where this is going. TV is so conservative and the stay-at-home dad always morphs into a cheating villain' (see Brothers and Sisters for a recent cliche example). To my great surprise his character didn't turn out like that at all. He was not suddenly a "recurring" character instead of a regular. He laughed...

I'm glad they didn't fire me, too!

Parenthood is still awaiting word on renewal for its third season but he says he's feeling confident that they're getting picked up. If you watch Parenthood, you should read this piece at Vulture about what it does right and a few areas where it needs more work. I rarely agree so whole heartedly with an indepth analysis such as that. (Though I fear any attempt to "complicate" the Joel & Julia characters would result in some clichéd cheating that I have no interest in seeing as a plot development.)

Sarah Hagen I didn't recognize quite as immediately. But when she walked past me I did one of those 'I know this person' double takes. It took me a few seconds before I was like "Slayerette! Millie!" Though she's always a welcome small screen presence she is one of those actors who looks quite different offscreen, more traditionally glamorous and pretty than she ever is in onscreen since she's often playing "geeks" (hence: Freaks and Geeks).

Sarah Hagan in (fromt left to right): Buffy, Freaks & Geeks, and Jess+Moss

After we chatted briefly she walked me over to meet her director Clay Jeter, who is originally from Tennessee (hence the "Spirit of Tennessee" award announced yesterday). I congratulated him on Jess+Moss's recent festival win (Dallas) and asked if they'd found distribution yet. They hadn't but the awards notice and reviews had them feeling positive about a pickup. Her director wanted to know how I'd recognized her. I told him Buffy the Vampire Slayer and he said that's the number two response but he hears Freaks and Geeks most often. That was the clincher, I tell him, a one-two punch. And only two of the best television series of all time, lucky girl! Hagan, who turns 27 next month, plays Jess, a recent high school graduate in a memory piece film about a shared summer with her cousin Moss (Austin Vickers).  I asked her if she's eager to move on from the mental association we have of her as a highschooler. "Play young as long as you can, right?" she says with a smile and shrug and I guess that's true for actors of all ages. Unfortunately I was unable to fit a screening in before I had to catch my plane back so Jess+Moss remains unseen... for now. But it certainly looks intriguing in stills and was apparently shot on degraded film stock.

Wednesday
Apr202011

Nashville Awards: Andrew Haigh's "Weekend" and More...

Jury Deliberations. Most festivals have separate jurors for each of the major sections. Cannes is the one people are most familiar with it being the festival of festivals. The competition slate is the main focus but they don't actually decide each of the awards you hear about. There are other juries gathered to decide things like the Camera D'Or (best first film) and the short film prizes. Nashville has five juries and they're also an AMPAS qualifying festival so if, for instance, a short film wins "best" in category here it becomes eligible for Oscar consideration. I was on the Narrative Competition jury this year. The running joke at the table became "this doesn't leave the table..." so...end of story!


Let it suffice to say that it's always usually enjoyable to discuss movies with other creative types and in this case it was extra enjoyable as my fellow jurors Dan Butler (previous discussed) and Joe Leydon (a Texas based film critic who also writes for Variety) were both fun passionate movie-loving guys.

After we decided our prizes, I scampered over to the Music Film jury when I saw them wrapping up to thank the gorgeous Kimberly Reed for her Prodigal Sons film the one I kept raving about to y'all a couple of years back. She told me about a new percolating project of hers but she's actually still trekking around the country with her breakthrough film years later. Oprah's interest in her story really made a huge impact -- Oprah really does control the world, doesn't she? -- but that kind of sustained interest couldn't have happened to a better documentary or to a more articulate champion for the transgendered community.

BEST OF THE 2011 NASHVILLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Read on to find out which films each jury loved as well as a few notes on the films.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Apr192011

Nathaniel in Nashville Pt. 3: It's A Zoo

In the previous festival post we were speaking briefly of "normal" movies versus festival choices. Here's a prime example of an odd thing that developed whilst movie watching... I ended up seeing virtually three documentaries in a row about our "friends" in the animal kingdom. This triple feature started out normally enough with just one movie. With Charlie Chaplin's The Circus coming up tomorrow for "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and circus epic bestseller adaptation Water For Elephants opening for Easter weekend, circuses were heavy on me  brain. So I thought I'd take in a documentary called One Lucky Elephant about a circus performer and the ongoing ethical dilemma of wild animals being enslaved to provide us with entertainment. I love elephants and I did actually ride on one as a kid.


I did not actually play "Boy" in a leopard print loincloth whilst riding on an elephant with daddy Tarzan (Buster Crabbe version) but that's how I'm remembering it for my illustrative amusement. Knowing myself as a young boy, it's also probably what I pretended I was doing at the time.

Have you ever had this experience? (The elephant riding not the Tarzan fantasies.)

I don't even recall in what context this elephant experience happened (state fair???). Virtually the only things I remember about it were that I was terrified and thrilled simultaneously and that I had never ever ever felt something living that was that enormous moving. The sensation is different than riding a horse (which I hadn't done at that point in my life) and the elephant was such a behemoth force of nature that it was almost like being jostled about while floating on waves if the waves were solid, dense, wrinkly and alive. Bizarre. 

But watching One Lucky Elephant, which is getting a theatrical run in the summer I believe, and which Oprah has picked up for her TV network, I felt pangs of guilt. If we weren't so fascinated by animals, would they be enslaved and taken from their families to entertain us?

The movie was about a man who had raised a baby elephant "Flora", made her the star of his travelling circus and realized in his later years that the elephant would long outlive him and parting with her was a economically and geographically complex problem and also fraught with emotional upheavals. Flora, like so many captive elephants, does have a heartbreaking violent episode in the movie that doesn't seem to mesh with her personality otherwise and one of the rich threads of the movie is the circus owner's painful realizations that this animal who has lived with him for her whole life is still unknowable. There was a terrific intense Q&A after the movie -- people have such strong feelings about the animal kingdom -- and I recommend seeing it if you get a chance. You can read more about the movie here

After that I joined some of my festival friends who were super into the idea of seeing Project NIM, which I believe Katey had recommended to us a few podcasts ago. It's the new film from Oscar winning documentarian James Marsh (Man on Wire). Snce my mind was just reeling from all these animals-in-captivity issues, I figured "Triple Feature" and finished it off with the French documentary Nénette about a very popular but miserable Orangutan. Nénette is like a non-fiction simian counterpart to Eeyore she is so bummed out about her life in the Paris Zoo.


I must say that I've never seen documentaries so closely related in theme that feel so illustrative of the Hollywood Blockbuster vs. Difficult Art Film equation. Nim is slick, mainstream and eager to please. Nénette refuses to care about whether or not you're enjoying yourself and expects you to come to it. As all honest movie-lovers know, there are pleasures and junk to be found at both ends of this divide. I wouldn't label Nénette junk at all, don't misunderstand, but in this case I just couldn't deal with the difficult art film.

NIM, which covers the life story of Nim Chimpsky, raised by humans and taught to sign until he is abandoned to science is hugely accessible, very funny, and then completely disturbing; it's going to be a huge hit (at least insofar as documentaries go). Meanwhile, Nénette is morose, contemplative and monotonous; There is no arc, no release, no story, just you looking at the animal. Nénette is almost like a trancy tone poem on all the topics these three films adress: human fascination with animals, our inability to stop anthropomorphizing, the misery of captivity, questions without answers "what are animals thinking?", and how our relationships to animals are often extremely telling about our relationships to people.  I'm quite sure I was absolutely in the wrong mood for Nénette. Either I had had too much of the topic or I just couldn't go with its complete lack of narrative and spotty context free information. I didn't enjoy it at all. I admired what I thought was an attempt to force you into noticing all the projections we do on animals by playing constant human voiceovers -- some funny, some thoughtful, some merely white noise -- but the visual withholding just angered me. I need more variety in a film and I couldn't even get a sense of how think the glass was surrounding Nénette or even how small or large her prison was, was because the movie, was so monotonously confrontational about making sure you were always considering Nénette's eternally sad very expressive face.

previous Nashville posts