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.

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March 16, 2008

The List is Life: #95

95.

The Dame;

Lily Tomlin.

Since her career took off during the 1960s, Lily Tomlin is an actress who has found great success on television, film,  and with her famed one woman shows on stage. Her most famous  cinematic collaborator is unquestionably Robert Altman with whom she made four films, including earning her one and only Oscar nomination to date in his Nashville, and was one of the standouts in his swansong, A Prairie Home Companion. She is a wonderously electric comedic performer, yet at the same time so perfectly adept at finding small, beautiful moments of humanity whenever she ventures into dramatic territory.

The Dude;

Steve Carell.

Though unquestionably loud, the majority of times that he appears on screen, Steve Carell is at the same time, incredibly subtle in the small moments. Small glances, shrugs, and gestures that add layers of depth and humanity to the laugh out loud moments of riotous comedy. His performance in Little Miss Sunshine works in complete contrast to almost everything that he has done in that, though full of humour, it is entirely deadpan and laying beneath everything is a heartbroken melancholy. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that even with his worldwide fame, Steve Carell probably doesn’t get enough credit as an actor.

The Director;

Stanley Donen.

The director of iconic films brimming with iconic moments, the sailors of his debut, On the Town, letting loose in New York, New York, Cary Grant’s last great screen hurrah, alongside Audrey Hepburn in Charade, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore unleashed upon cinema audiences in Bewitched, those Seven Brides for those Seven Brothers and of course, Gene Kelly in the rain, dancing his way to immortality. Donen’s forte was generally in the musical arena, yet when the songs were nowhere to be found, the fun certainly never dreid up. His films were always fun, always a breeze to watch; he was not a director who ever let himself get to attached to one type, he simply told stories, and entertained millions.

The Picture;

Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)

The searing work of a master, Naked is an unrelenting rant, a dark and bitter portrait of lower class England in the 1990s. Revolving around Johnny, played with dark, bitter humour and a weary knowingness by David Thewlis, this film is all about him; we journey through this world with him and are constantly subjected to his rants. Whether or not you appreciate the film may depend entirely upon how you feel about him, this is not an easy film to stomach and it is absolutely certain that repeat viewings will do wonders for one’s appreciation of it. This is a dark, dark world of morally greay human beings, and yet Mike Leigh makes it endlessly fascinating by managing to probe through the wordiness to find the humanity in each and every one of the sublime cast.

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