The Parnassus Times

March 11, 2009

The List is Life: #76

76.

The Dame;

Olympia Dukakis.

Born in 1931, to Greek immigrants in Massachusetts, Olympia Dukakis began her career on stage, performing in Shakespeare and repertory companies, before making her Broadway debut at the age of 30. Though little success came her way at first, she found her home Off-Broadway on the smaller, more intimate stages, winning Obie and Drama Desk Awards for her work, winning acclaim in productions of  The Rose Tattoo, The Seagull and  A Man’s a Man, to name a few.  In 1973, she and her husband founded the Whole Theater Company in Montclair, New Jersey, which they ran until 1988. It was during that late 80s period, that she finally made her mark on movies. Having appeared in small parts all the way back to the early 60s, she landed the role of Cher’s mother in Norman Jewison’s  Moonstruck, beautifully, subtly underplaying the role to great impact, she won a Supporting Actress Oscar, for a breakthrough role at the age of 57. Since then, she has established herself as a regular working movie actress in projects as varied as  Steel Magnolias, Mighty Aphrodite and  Mr. Holland’s Opus, as well as a standout turn amongst the wonderful ensemble of Sarah Polley’s Away From Her. Along with her newfound cinematic success, she works regularly on TV and has never abandoned the stage, where at the age of 77, she still performs AND directs.

The Dude;

Ewan McGregor.

Emerging in the mid 90s, during the era of Cool Brittania, as emerging director Danny Boyle’s leading man of choice, Ewan McGregor established himself as a sturdy young performer in Shallow Grave, before becoming nothing less than a 90s British icon following his strung out performance in 1996s Trainspotting. The following year, director and star, along with writer John Hodge and producer Andrew McDonald, attempted to make a mark on the US, with A Life Less Ordinary, though the film couldn’t be considered much more than an interesting failure, it opened the way for McGregor to land the role of the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas’ new Star Wars trilogy, and the international recognition that brought his way. Leading roles in creatively vibrant movies like Moulin Rouge!, Down with Love and Big Fish followed, but no matter how high his star has risen, McGregor has never abandoned his roots, with films like Young Adam and Scenes of a Sexual Nature bringing him back to the small, humble roots of Britain, and his global motorcycle adventures with friend Charley Boorman, Long Way Round and Long Way Down both stand as symbols of his desires, dreams and ambition beyond the screen. McGregor is an established Hollywood leading man, not afraid to take risks, not afraid to go back to basics, and effortlessly watchable with his easy, laidback charm.

The Director;

Michelangelo Antonioni.

Discovering drawing and music as a child, Michelangelo Antonioni took up the violin and gave his first concert at the age of 9, before abandoning the instrument upon discovery in his teens…of cinema. In his early 20s he began working as a film journalist for a local newspaper for 5 years, before moving to Rome where he began writing for the nationals official fascist film magazine, Cinema. After only a months he was fired, whereafter he attended the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, studying film technique, this was another chapter of his life that never took off, withdrawing just 3 months later. Through the early 40s he worked as assistant on numerous productions, where he met Roberto Rossellini and worked with Marcel Carne. In 1950 he directed his first feature, breaking the neorealist hold on Italian cinema and portraying the middle classes of society. He was not afraid to venture outside his own nation, making films in France and in England, even tually tackling the working classes in his work, social alienation prevalent throughout his movies. In 55 he had experimented with the style that came to prove his trademark, replacing conventional narrative with sequences of seemingly unconnected events, shooting in long takes, often with sparse use of dialogue. 1960s  L’avventura played at the Cannes Film Festival to a wildly mixed reception, bringing the director to the international stage. He followed it up with the remaining two parts of a thematic trilogy, La Notte and  L’eclisse seeing him work with major stars and further establish his reputation. Following this he left mainland Europe, travelling first to Britain where he produced his ode to the swinging 60s  Blowup, signifying once more his refusal to rest on common ideas of plotting and reliance on dialogue, the film brought the director Oscar nominations for writing and directing, which saw him travel to America, where he turned out the duo  Zabriskie Point, again following his trademark style and utlizing a soundtrack of popular hits, and then Jack Nicholson vehicle  The Passenger. Afterwards he went back to Europe where he spent the rest of his careerworking mainly in his native language, producing features and segments in omnibus films. He continued working till he was 91, dying in 2007, at the age of 94.

The Picture;

Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

At the age of 30, David Fincher had made his feature film debut as director of  Alien 3, a film in which he went to war with 20th Century Fox over script and budget issues. It was at the time, the most expensive film ever made by a first time director, and as such, the restrictions put on him, were perhaps no surprise. With his second film, Fincher scaled all that grandiosity back, focusing his film around the well established Morgan Freeman, and rising stars Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow. Built around a righteous serial killer in an age when such a thing was unseen in cinema, Fincher’s gloomy meditation on the state of the world established him as a master of creating dark and vivid atmospheres. Gripping from the first to the last, not least when the uncredited killer finally walks onto screen, Se7en took serial killer movies to another level, proving both an…entertaining viewing experience, and a provocative, thought provoking piece of cinema, finding that ideal balance between being mainstream and uncompromising,  it heralded the emergence of a major new talent at the forefront of the new wave of American moviemakers.

March 9, 2009

The List is Life: #77

77.

The Dame;

Christina Ricci.

Christina Ricci started out big, alongside recent Oscar winner Cher, hot young starlet of the moment Winona Ryder, and king of the underrated, Bob Hoskins, in the comedy-drama  Mermaids. Her natural cuteness lit up the screen, and so the starmaking role she took in the next years  Addams Family showed up her talent for diversity from the off. The class was so clear that in the sequel two years later her role was beefed up and she stole the show, before going on to her first major leading role in the similarly spooky  Casper some 2 years later. As the late teens hit, the type of projects she took on took a far more adult and fascinating swerve,  from the edgy  Opposite of Sex, to fascinating films and working with great filmmakers like in  The Ice Storm, Buffalo ’66, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and  Pecker, collaborations with the likes of Ang Lee, Terry Gilliam, John Waters and Woody Allen putting quite the sheen on the resume. She has also never been above mixing up her indie leanings with more mainstream fare, providing minor voice work in  Small Soldiers, starring alongside Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s  Sleepy Hollow, the Wachowski brothers  Speed Racer, and appearances on the small screen in shows such as  Joey, Ally McBeal and  Grey’s Anatomy. However smaller, character driven movies have always been her forte, as the hugely different but always interesting likes of  Penelope, Monster and  Black Snake Moan have proven. Christina Ricci is constantly proving herself to be one of the most diverse and challenging young leading ladies around.

The Dude;

Humphrey Bogart.

After an early career on Broadway marked by an acclaimed turn in Robert E. Sherwood’s  The Petrified Forest, Bogart made his first impression on screen alongside Leslie Howard (who had to fight for Bogart to be cast) in the screen version of that same play. The role lead to him being typecast, playing gangsters in Warner Bros. B-pictures for the next few years, before in 1941, with the assistance of his good friend John Huston, his time to shine came. Firstly appearing in the Huston scripted  High Sierra, then following it up with a superstar making role playing Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade in Huston’s directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon. Two years later came  Casablanca, the Best Picture Oscar and immortality, before meeting Lauren Bacall in 1944 on Howard Hawks’ Hemingway adaptation of  To Have and Have Not. The two shared a sizzling chemistry on screen that carried over into real life and saw them married the next year, before teaming up with Hawks once again to tackle Chandler’s Marlowe in  The Big Sleep. Bogart continued bringing his laconic, world weary charm to films like  Dark Passage and  Key Largo, but it was his work in Huston’s  Treasure of the Sierra Madre that probably stands to this day as his finest work, crippled physically by the desert, and mentally by the lure of gold. Superstardom achieved, peer recognition followed in the early 50s, teaming with Huston again, alongside Katharine Hepburn he landed an Oscar as the drunken, grizzled boatman in  The African Queen. He continued on strong, The Caine Mutiny, Billy Wilder’s  Sabrina, and his final turn as a down on his luck sportswriter alongside Rod Steiger in  The Harder they Fall, before, aged 57, falling inevitable victim to his trusty sidekick through the years, the cigarette, he died of lung cancer, the effortless, easy cool diminished and defeated, he weighed just 80 pounds.

The Director;

Samira Makhmalbaf.

Daughter of acclaimed Iranian auteur, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Samira Makhmalbaf dropped out of school at the age of 15, citing incompetent teachers and started observing her father at work, before attending a film course at private school. There she produced a short drama and documentary, before in 1998, aged just 18, her feature film debut  Sib (The Apple) was entered into official competition at the Cannes Film Festival. She followed it up 2 years later with  Takhte Siah (Blackboards) another film dealing with the treatment of youth in Iran, in a very different way to her debut. Since then she has produced two more features, dealing with topical issues in Iran for women and children, as well as a short film alongside other international filmmakers like Ken Loach, Sean Penn and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, in a feature about the effects of 9/11 on people around the world. Still aged just 28, she is fast proving herself to be one of the most interesting and socially aware filmmakers around.

The Picture;

On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)

In 1952, Elia Kazan gave up to the House Un-American Activities Committee, the names of 8 people within the film industry that alongside himself had been members of of the American Communist Party in the 1930s. Those 8 were quickly blacklisted and had their names removed from all productions of which they had been a part. In 1954, Kazan, along with writer Budd Schulberg and producer Sam Spiegel produced this 8 Oscar winning response.  The story of a man who in spite of the warnings of all around him, does what he has to do for his own peace of mind. The film landed Best Picture, and Kazan, his second Best Director Oscar, guiding an impeccable cast through Schulberg’s look at the hard bitten, hard working, down on their luck, New York dock scene. Eva Marie Saint won an Oscar for her debut screen performance, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger crowded the Best Supporting Actor category, but it was Marlon Brando, coming off the back of 3 successive Best Actor nominations who stole the show as Terry Malloy, the washed up boxer with the soft, feeling soul. It was 4th time lucky for the Omaha native who finally walked away with the big prize, to cap 5 of the best years of production that any actor ever had. Today, despite mulling over its origins, the film still stands tall as a testament to the human spirit, and as an ode to just how much hell it can be to get to heaven

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