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Entries in Paul Newman (31)

Wednesday
Jul112012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Road to Perdition" 

For this edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot, TFE's signature series in which everyone playing along must choose one shot from a selected movie that they define as best, we're looking at Sam Mendes Oscar-winning Road to Perdition (2002) on the eve of its 10th anniversary. 

The film's sole Oscar win was a posthumous statue for the great cinematographer Conrad L Hall. He died in early January of 2003, just a few weeks before his tenth Oscar nomination was announced. Hall didn't have anything to prove this late in his career but Mendes sure did, given that it was his follow up to his Oscar winning debut American Beauty (1999). This crime drama is filled with frameable frames. It's majestic looking really, veritably dripping with prestige for better and worse, usually on account of both the lighting (one shudders to think how long Hall spent on each set up) and the intricate staging and compositions.

a terrific POV shot that doesn't cheat. That's so rare in the movies.

The bulk of the film's narrative spins dangerously from this eyewitness shot, a perfectly excellent choice for Best Shot -- I'm sure someone will choose it! -- if not (quite) mine. 

Michael Sullivan Jr (Tyler Hoechlin nine years prior to Teen Wolf fame) is our narrator and he's about to witness a murder that his father (Tom Hanks) has a hand in though it's the unstable Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig) pulling the trigger. Road to Perdition's title suggests that the movie is about irredeemable souls and it is to some degree. Mob boss John Rooney (Oscar nominated Paul Newman) says as much when he's screaming at Michael Sullivan Sr. (Tom Hanks) in the basement of a church -- "There are only murderers here" -- predicting that none of them will see heaven. But the truer topic is fathers and sons. There are three sets of them in this movie: The Sullivans, The Rooneys, and the closest of the lot, the non biological edition - the Sullivan/Rooney.

The introduction of Michael Sullivan Sr. He never turns to look at his son.

Sullivan Jr. and Sr as well as the Rooney Jr and Sr are often separated by great distances in the frame but note how Sullivan Sr and Rooney Sr are all tight in one of the film's most tender moments, a little piano duet at a wake.

That's all an elaborate set up to make my choice for Best Shot really hurt, to extend a little sympathy for the devil. The devil in Daniel Craig. In one of the film's least comfortable moments Connor glibly apologizes to the mafia bigwigs gathered about that murder that gets the film rolling. His angry father humiliates him right then and there. As the meeting adjourns Mendes and Hall's camera does a slow zoom in on Connor just as he's being abandoned by everyone visually. Connor goes out of focus the closer you get to him, the better to illuminate the father (Rooney Sr) and preferred virtual son (Sullivan Sr.) all chummy directly behind him.

Best Shot

The focus snaps back to Connor at this perfect shot's tail end. He's about to kill two more people as payback insuring tragedy for all (including himself). No, he's not going to heaven.

Or maybe I just love this shot so much because it mirrors the sudden focus shift in Connor's introduction earlier as he lays on a couch smoking.

Or maybe I just love this shot so much because Daniel Craig is a dangerous actor and the movie desperately needs his unique kind. Jude Law as the very sick photographer "Maguire" also manages but Tom Hanks, fatally miscast, is at a complete loss to convey it. Even his furrowed brow looks friendly --physiognomy as destiny. Sorry, Tom!

Or maybe I just love this shot so much because the next sharp cut (god bless Jill Bilcockfrom childish Connor seething with hate for daddy and adopted brother is to this:

 

"There are only murderers bloggers in this room"
Serious Film "blaze of glory"
F*** No, But There's a Poster "Meet Maguire"
Amiresque  best (gun)shot
Cinesnatch past, present and no future all in one image
Film Actually a father and son reunion
Encore Entertainment "when you raise a gun you get your own blood on your hands" 
Antagony & Ecstacy on one of the most beautiful pictures of the past quarter century 
Pussy Goes Grrr convergent diagonals, legible horizontals, phallic guns?
Okinawa Assault biking towards damnation, wading in crowds

I'm also happy to report that Rope of Silicon has joined the "Best Shot" party this week. Brad's series "Paused" which shares gorgeous screenshots from random movies will line up with ours here when we're both in the mood for the same movie. I'm sad I didn't think to do Alien when he covered it.

Next up on 'Hit Me':
07/18 PINK NARCISSUS (1971) *for adult audiences only*
07/25 THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001) Wes Anderson's masterpiece?
08/01 HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953) with Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable.

Monday
Oct242011

Steve McQueen's Oscar Loss and Workout Win

Each year come awards season we see hundreds of frozen grins and hear hundreds of ever so slight variations on that autopilot soundbyte "I'm just so honored to be  ______." But how do the losing stars and snubbees really feel? One of my favorite things about celebrity biographies is that they have to dig a little deeper when it comes to the discussion of The Oscars; you can't fill whole books with soundbytes.

I was recently flipping through the new biography "Steve McQueen" by Marc Eliot and came across this passage on the Oscars. McQueen thought his sole nomination (The Sand Pebbles, 1966) was long overdue and eagerly participated in press events. He bought himself a burgundy Ferrari to reward himself for the nomination.

Yet on Oscar night, Paul Scofield won Best Actor...

The audience erupted in applause, even though Scofield was one of the many who did not show up. His co-star Wendy Hiller, accepted for him. She stepped to the microphone and said, "There is something very special in being recognized in a country other than one's own!"

And for Steve, there was something very unspecial about not being recognized in his own. After the ceremonies, Neile told a reporter that she was happy her husband had lost. "If he'd won, he'd have been impossible to live with," she chirped. "Not because of a big head but because he'd be worrying how to top himself next. I prayed he wouldn't win."

Steve McQueen in "The Sand Pebbles"

Steve said nothing to anybody that night. Several years later he was still bitter about the loss of the only Oscar nomination he would ever receive and took a jab at Marlon Brando, who won an Oscar in 1973 for his role in The Godfather; who not only didn't show up but had warned the Academy he wouldn't accept the award if he won it... Not long after Steve told Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, "Perhaps if I had announced that I wouldn't accept the Oscar, I might have won."

Following Oscar night, still having trouble finding his Sand Pebbles follow-up, he spent his nights drinking and womanizing and his days on an extended workout regimen.

pictorial evidence of his workout success after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Friday
Apr082011

Unsung Heroes: The Technical Advisor on 'The Hustler'

Willie MosconiSerious Film's Michael C. here. 2011 will mark the 50th anniversary of Robert Rossen's classic The Hustler, so in this episode of Unsung Heroes I thought it a great opportunity to tip my hat to a man who is a large part of why the film is still watched and loved five decades later.

There is a vibe you get from certain films, a vibe that tells you “this movie knows what it’s talking about. This is how it really is.” The film's subject may be totally unfamiliar, space travel or gourmet cooking, but you can still sense when a film has done its homework and when it’s faking it. It’s the difference between the poker movie which simply gives the hero a royal flush, and the poker movie that knows it is more impressive to watch the hero play an average hand brilliantly.

Robert Rossen’s The Hustler is a movie you can feel knows its business cold from its first seconds. The Hustler had as technical advisor pool playing great Willie Mosconi, a man whose impact on the game of pool is comparable to Wayne Gretzky’s on hockey. His mastery seeps into every frame of this movie.

From the way the players screw their cues together to the way they call their shots this film has every detail in place. The Hustler is especially skilled at showing what happens when two competitors at the top of the game come up against each other.  A lesser movie would simply have billiard balls spinning and hopping all over the table but The Hustler is wiser than that. Thanks to Mosconi’s know-how, and the great script by Rossen, it makes clear that the game is won or loss on stamina and concentration, not on show-off displays and trick shots.

Rather than bogging it down with technical info this level of detail opens the story as a battle of personalities. The Hustler understands not only how pool is played, but how different characters types manifest themselves on the table. In one memorable exchange George C. Scott informs Newman's Fast Eddie he has the talent to be the best. When Newman asks why it was he lost anyway, Scott smirks that it was a lack of character. It's a testaments to the depth of the film's portrait of the game that we know exactly what he’s talking about.

Beyond creating a fully realized battlefield for the characters to clash, the technical know-how achieves something even more crucial to the film’s lasting success: It makes the movie incredibly cool. This is what I responded to most strongly when I first found this film as a teenager. These guys weren’t just hotshots. They were religiously devoted to the game. The question of the best was as weighty in the pool hall as it was in the world of chess or dance. With the aide of Mosconi, Rossen was able to show, for the first time to most of the public, that the pool hall was a worthy arena for this level of drama.

Wednesday
Mar232011

Elizabeth Taylor, "Functioning Voluptuary" (RIP)

A very sad morning it is. I am loathe to report that Elizabeth Taylor, has passed away at the age of 79. While I gather my thoughts -- I am genuinely upset at the moment, Liz having been one of my favorite people in the universe my whole life -- please enjoy this beautiful tribute from Paul Newman, another lost great, to one of the most important stars of all time.

or check out the gallery section to enjoy her beauty.

Monday
Mar212011

Tennessee 100: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958)

Robert G from Sketchy Details here to discuss the real star of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for this Tennessee Williams Centennial Week. The beauty of the fifties screen adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is not in the quality of the performances, set design, or cinematography. It comes from the tightly-wound dialog and plot structure adapted from Tennessee Williams' stage play.

Elizabeth Taylor and a No Neck Monster

For this one-day tale of adults acting as foolish as children, the true nature of the story is revealed when the characters pull away from the lines they learned by heart. The dialog is a mask used by the characters to hide their true feelings about everyone else. Even something as ridiculous as Maggie's (Oscar nominated Elizabeth Taylor) constant put-downs of the "no-neck monsters" is nothing but an act of misdirection.

Brick has major emotional hurdles to leap.Every major character in the film, regardless of age, is no more mature than the parade of children singing and dancing throughout the estate. The adults fire off sharp words at each other to draw attention away from their own insecurities. They all play into the roles defined for them by the family. If Brick (Oscar nominated Paul Newman) can't be the football star he once was, he will be the most dedicated alcoholic the family has ever gossiped about. The same goes for Big Daddy (Burl Ives) as the no-nonsense patriarch of an empire, Big Momma (Judith Anderson) as the unyielding caregiver, and even Mae and Maggie as the manipulative money-hungry wives. Talking about the roles they're playing only encourages each of them to act out the roles with more energy and commitment.

It is only when the constant talk of "Big Daddy," "cats," and "Skipper" gives way to the overbearing discussion of "mendacity" that the film comes into focus. Brick isn't the only person trying to escape the lies of the Pollitt Empire; they all are. Every single member of the family is sick of the roles, game play, and war of kind facades with bitter tongues. They don't want to play into it but they don't know how to escape it. Even the doctor plays into the game of lies when he tells everyone except for Big Momma and Big Daddy that Big Daddy's dying from cancer.

The constant repetition in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is an effective device: Brick always plays with his glass in a certain way, Maggie wipes her hands and arms, Mae (Madeleine Sherwood) always conducts the children's songs in the same way, Big Daddy dismisses everyone with the same tone and arm wave. The repeated discussions of child rearing, marriage, Big Daddy's health, and the titular cat metaphor are just extra tools used to keep each member of the family in their respective role.

These words and actions are choreographed to create an artificial sense of normalcy that will eventually give way to more believable mannerisms, speaking patterns, and interactions when the lies stop.

The only thing that can break the pattern is to discuss the environment of lies itself: mendacity. Brick blames it for his drinking, but Big Daddy won't accept that as an answer because Brick is expected to play the role of a drunk. One by one, the lies that support the clan are torn apart until only the true nature of each character is left standing. There is no more glass spinning or arm waving; there is only a family transitioning into better fitting roles.


Tennessee Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It lost the Tony Award to The Diary of Anne Frank in 1956. The film version was nominated for 6 Oscars losing Best Picture to Gigi. Burl Ives won the Supporting Actor that year but for The Big Country instead. "Big Daddy" surely had something to do with that.

Friday
Mar182011

When Did Stars Start Posing As Other Stars?

Remember these photos of Julianne Moore as Bette Davis, Ann-Margret and Marlene Dietrich? I can't remember when they were taken exactly. I want to say 1999?


When did all this start? It's a question for the pop culture historians out there. It's been going on for as long as I can remember. And one of the funniest things about is it people get excited each time like it's a new concept. Remember the hoopla over that Vanity Fair Alfred Hitchcock shoot a couple years back when Jodie Foster did The Birds, Javier Bardem and ScarJo did Rear Window and Marion Cotillard did Psycho and so on and so on and so on?

Often this star-on-star mimicry involves Marilyn Monroe. One might have an easier time listing the people who haven't posed as her than listing the people who have. I'm not even talking about the people who have actually played Her (or thinly veiled interpretations of her) in the movies or on television or stage and that list is even longer.

Here's just a small sampling or Marilyn tributes from Madonna, Lindsay Lohan, Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson.

 

Yes this has a lot to do with iconic imagery and nostalgia but both iconography and nostalgia predate the birth of Marilyn Monroe. Unless the scientists and the zealots are both wrong and the world began on June 1st, 1926. And if it did why the hell was Marilyn Monroe pretending to be Theda Bara?

But anyway... by the time I was born, Marilyn was already well established as Hollywood's most present ghost and she's never stopped haunting popular culture. [Tangent: The first star that I actually remember the death of was Natalie Wood on November 29th, 1981 since West Side Story, which I watched religiously every time I could find it on tv, was my gateway drug into movie freakdom. Rapid onset Oscar mania was just a few years round the corner. Was I trying to fill the hole that Natalie left by discovering Streep, Close, Hurt & Turner, Bridges & Pfeiffer and all the rest?  I was... distraught...  to say the least.]

This subject is on my brain since I unpacked that "Life at the Movies" book and saw this photo of Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood doing a silent film Rudolph Valentino & Vilma Bánky thing.

Isn't that cute? But wait there's more. How about Paul Newman as a swashbuckler a la Fairbanks / Power

Click to read more ...